On the flip chart in front of the pond, there’s a slide with a graph showing rising student numbers and decreasing government expenditure per student. The master students on the course Qualitative analysis of a legislative process: introduction are reading the PowerPoint presentation on paper. Apart from a red square on the flip chart and Geelhoed’s sweater, it’s just a normal lecture, but in the sun and with wasps. Only one student is on Facebook and just before the break another student lights up a cigarette.
Since Monday, several Rotterdam academics have been wearing pinned red squares, the sign that academics at most Dutch universities have been wearing since the start of the academic year to draw attention to their workload and to protest against budget cuts. “We want to give voice to #WOinActie,” says assistant professor Federica Violi, whilst taking pictures of Geelhoed’s open air lecture. “Since 2000, there’s been a rise in the number of students and a decrease in the government budget per student. That produces a lot of pressure and overworked staff. And in the end, it will have a negative influence on the quality of education.”
“Keeping pace with international standards is becoming harder,” adds lecturer and Master’s coordinator Jennifer Riter. “As academic staff, we have more administrative tasks and more students, so it’s becoming harder to maintain focus.” Violi and Riter do not understand budget cuts in higher education. “If you have more and more students, why would you cut funds? Investing in education should always be a priority,” says Violi. Riter points to the students who are listening to the open air lecture: “These are the people you should be investing in.”
Research during holidays
During the break in the lecture, Geelhoed says that it’s a last minute decision to join #WOinActie this way. “This morning we decided to give this lecture here. I think that lecturing outside is pretty symbolic: the university is being undressed.”
Normally, Geelhoed is not the first one to protest, but she fears the consequences of increasing student numbers and decreasing resources. “If a university depends on other means, such as contract research, perverse incentives may arise. There’s also a risk that you’ll end up with a model where students have to graduate as quickly and easily as possible.”
Geelhoed also fully supports the other purpose of #WOinActie, demanding attention for the workload of academics. “In the past, I worked at another university where I really had to do my research in my spare time. For several years, I used most of my holiday leave to do research. The work’s great fun, but there was too much pressure.”
The initiators of the Rotterdam #WOinActie are planning to give more open air lectures this week.