Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) facilitates climate change through its close ties with the fossil fuel industry. This is one of the conclusions found in a report published by the sustainability think tank Changerism today. Erasmus University Rotterdam and RSM cannot identify with the picture sketched in this report.

The report is the outcome of a year-long investigation into the relations between RSM and the fossil fuel industry. The researchers spoke with various members of RSM’s staff and made a number of appeals to the Netherlands’ Government Information (Public Access) Act.

‘Shell able to influence design of the curriculum’

One of the most remarkable discoveries made by the researchers is a contract regarding a Shell/RSM partnership, signed by the corporation and the faculty in 2012. This contract proposes setting up a joint steering group (SG) made up of Shell management and RSM researchers. This steering group is intended to provide RSM insight into major developments within Shell, and keep Shell up to date on key developments in the field of business administration. This contract also states that Shell is able to influence the structure of the RSM curriculum and the ‘profile of the students’: “The main aim of this SG is: (…) c. For Shell to potentially influence the design of the RSM curriculum and the profile of students who attend the BSc/MSc/MBA programmes.”

The researchers were unable to establish whether – and if so, how – Shell indeed exerts such an influence on the curriculum and the students’ profile: “It should be noted that no one at RSM could make clear how this SG aim impacted or still impacts day-to-day affairs at the faculty, even though several interviewees were close to the matter.”

Shell financed RSM research used for lobbying purposes

In addition, Shell has paid over EUR 300,000 for a 2009 study focusing on the Netherlands’ business climate for corporate headquarters. However, the report in question only names the employers’ association VNO-NCW as a client – it does not list Shell as an external funder. This contravenes the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice, which prescribes that external sources of funding are explicitly named in scholarly publications.

The research results were used by VNO-NCW in its lobbying efforts for a tax measure that benefits multinational corporations. Follow the Money has published a detailed report on this study on Tuesday.

‘Broader support base for gas’

In addition, the Changerism report goes into a study performed by RSM in partnership with Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland, on behalf of Shell, NAM, GasTerra and ENGIE. As stated on the website of Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie (TKI) Gas, this study is intended to ultimately create “broader support base in society for gas as an energy carrier and a widely-accepted ‘license to operate’ for the gas sector’.

The report offers various other examples of ties between researchers and the fossil fuel industry. In addition, it describes a number of recruitment activities undertaken by such companies at RSM and points out the sector’s obvious physical presence on campus in the shape of promotional materials, stands and Shell’s quarterly publication ShellVenster.

RSM: ‘Report is tendentious, biased and incorrect’

RSM dean Steef van de Velde has announced in a written statement that RSM and EUR do not subscribe to the report’s conclusions: “The report is tendentious, biased and contains factual errors, and is not up to academic standards.” This statement furthermore denies that Shell has any influence on the curricula. “Neither Shell nor any other company plays a formal part in this process.” The University does involve ‘external organisations and stakeholders’ during the accreditation process and programme evaluations. According to Van de Velde, this is because students’ decision to enrol in a particular degree programme is based in part on its relevance for the employment market.

The researchers’ conclusion that RSM contributes to climate change is ‘groundless’ and ‘fundamentally incorrect’. “RSM takes the position that collaboration with all sectors of the economy plays an important role in the realisation of the crucial energy transition and the UN’s sustainable development goals.” In RSM’s view, collaboration with all segments of the private sector is a ‘must’. Also, RSM regrets that the researchers ignored publications that criticise oil and gas companies.