If the investigation into the ties between Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) and the fossil fuel industry by an independent committee does not produce clear results, the Inspectorate of Education will order an enquiry and the minister will consider further actions. Minister Jet Bussemaker (Education) responds to a report about the links between RSM and the fossil industry, which was published last month.

That report by sustainability think tank Changerism (entitled A Pipeline of Ideas, read here) found that close links exist between RSM and fossil energy companies. In the report, Changerism describes various ways of working together and how the fossil industry benefits from this. The authors of the report place question marks (among others) regarding the independence and integrity of several scientific studies, cooperative ventures with companies like Shell in which the company seems to be given a formal role in forming the curriculum and the physical presence of such companies on campus. The cooperation agreement between Shell and RSM, for example, states that one of the main goals of the cooperation is ‘for Shell to potentially influence the design of the RSM curriculum and the profile of students who attend the BSc/MSc/MBA programmes’.

‘Involvement is fine, driving the curriculum isn’t’

Institutions are responsible for defining the content of their education programmes and determining the curriculum. According to Minister Bussemaker, businesses may be involved but must not have a decisive influence. “Thinking about the content of the education programme to consider what knowledge and skills a student needs is fine, but driving the curriculum is not,” the minister says in a letter to the Lower House following the Changerism report about the links between the fossil industry and RSM.

Bussemaker waits for results of scientific integrity committee

The Changerism report calls on the university to take measures. RSM announced that it would set up a register to show all the links with business and industry. In an interview with EM, dean Steef van de Velde said that RSM would look closely at all the cooperative agreements with businesses and where necessary amend them. And an independent committee (consultation will take place about the exact task and composition) must explore whether the links between faculties with external parties and associated procedures comply with the principles of scientific integrity.

Until the committee for scientific integrity presents the results of its study, Minister Bussemaker will not make any comments about the content of the Changerism report. She says that the university is undertaking ‘vigorous and satisfactory action’. The minister has also asked EUR to share experiences with the public register for cooperation with third parties with other universities. If that register creates more transparency, it could be an addition to the rules for independence in the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice.

Inspectorate of Education

In her letter, however, Bussemaker does take into account the possibility for further action. She thus keeps the possibility open that the Inspectorate of Education sets up its own enquiry and that further actions will take place ‘if the committee’s study does not produce clear results’.

Bussemaker wrote the letter in response to a request for a parliamentary debate about the Changerism report. It is not yet known when that debate will take place.