The protesters wear small red squares on their coats, which have often been matched with red scarves and woolly hats. The placards they’re bearing have slogans like ‘I’m a professor, not a battery chicken’ and ‘Lower interest, more lecturers’.
One of the driving forces behind the demo is Professor Rens Bod of the University of Amsterdam. Bod originally launched the WOinActie protest movement. “We’ve grown into a national movement,” he states in his opening speech. “They can’t afford to ignore us anymore!”
We wonder if Education Minister Van Engelshoven can hear the shouting and singing of the crowd. Bod intended to hand her a large red square as a symbol of their disagreement, but the Minister is conspicuous by her absence. “Budget cut after budget cut and what’s our Minister’s attitude? She won’t even bother to step outside to accept the red square – even though her offices are 100 metres from here!”
“Booh!” yells the audience. After this, fellow organiser Geertje Hulzebos steps forward. Hulzebos recently stepped down as Chair of the Dutch Student Union (LSVb). She tells the protesters how she was able to move all the way up from preparatory secondary vocational education to university. She believes she owes this to teachers who believed in her and took time to help her. And she fears there will be less and less opportunity for that kind of thing with all the cuts. The audience is eating out of her hand.
The next representative to step on the rostrum is Marijtje Jongsma of the VAWO Academic Union. She confirms that up till now, their criticism of the Cabinet’s actions fell on deaf ears. And now the economy is picking, yet the higher education is still in the red. The protesters are just as dismayed about this as she is.
Not a privilege
After that, everyone sets off on a protest march through the city centre. They pass Hofvijver and the Ministry of Education. They chant well-known slogans like ‘Education is a right, not a privilege’ and ‘What’s the time? Solidari-time!’
The stakes are high. The protesters want the budget cuts in higher education swept off the table. Actually, they want more than that: they’re calling for the government to reserve another EUR 1 billion for higher education. And they’re not afraid to walk the talk. “The next step is a strike,” says Professor Josef Früchtl from Amsterdam.
EUR is present
Why this researcher became the driving force behind the academic protest
Interview with Alessandra Arcuri, the driving force behind the #WOinActie at Erasmus…
Prof. Dr. Alessandra Arcuri, the driving force behind WOinActie within Erasmus University, doesn’t know how many EUR employees have joined the throng. “I´m not sure of how many we are from the EUR because we didn’t have any forms and didn´t organize means of transportation,” she explains. Jeroen Jansz, Full Professor and Director of Education of the ESHCC, for example, comes directly from his residency in Leiden. “I think there’s quite a number of EUR employees,” Jansz says. “I saw at least six colleagues from the ESHCC.”
Arcuri: “My impression from the responses I´ve received from colleagues is that we are a relatively small group, vis-a-vis the participations of other universities. Most of the colleaguse at the EUR responded that they supported WOinActie, but various circumstances made their participation difficult.”
According to Karin Siegmann, Senior Lecturer Labor and Gender Economics at ISS, about eight employees and over fifteen students are present at the demonstration. “Over the past decade, we have seen a substantial reduction in both ISS’s support departments and academic staff – even though our PhD programme grew roughly four times as large in the same period,” she says. “The result is that our academic staff members are forced to handle a lot of administrative work in addition to their academic tasks. The pressure of work is so high that in some cases, colleagues don’t even have time to take lunch.”
Back at De Koekamp, musician Benjamin Fro steps on the stage. He sings English-language protest songs, including tunes about diversity and colour in the higher education sector. His style of hip hop has a good groove, and some of the protesters even feel like dancing.
Bod thanks everyone who turned out and is delighted with the solidarity they’ve shown. This day is one for the history books, as he said earlier. The first protesters make off for home, buses are standing by.
“What this demo shows is how quickly the WOinActie movement has grown,” says Arcuri. “A year ago, it was still a small group; today, some 2,000 people have turned out. If the Minister still isn’t impressed by today’s protest, I’m confident that this movement will find other ways to get her to think carefully about the perverse implications that a policy of budget cuts in higher education could have on our society as a whole.”