WOinActie, the FNV trade union, the National Student Union (LSVb) and the trade union representing scientists (VAWO) have jointly called on the boards of all Dutch universities to cancel their own opening ceremonies and travel to Leiden to attend the alternative opening ceremony instead. “We are seeking to cause a bit of a commotion,” says Rens Bod, a full professor at UvA who also serves as the chairman of WOinActie.
This is because Bod feels there are no grounds for a celebration. He is disappointed in the Dutch Minister for Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, who announced before the summer recess that she is adopting most of the recommendations for a new budget allocation model issued by the Van Rijn Committee. Among other things, this means that tertiary education institutions that offer a relatively large number of degrees in STEM subjects will be allocated additional funding, at the expense of other fields of study.
The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the umbrella organisation representing all Dutch universities, has stated that the budget cuts that will affect departments offering degrees in the humanities, social sciences and medicine may amount to over €100 million. According to WOinActie, the budget reallocation proposed by the Van Rijn Committee will result in at least two thousand people losing their jobs. As a result, the remaining academics will have an even heavier workload, departments will become even more competitive, and the different disciplines will face off for funding.
Bod will be fighting for ‘proper funding of academic teaching’ on 2 September. “Since the Van Rijn Committee’s report was released, the level of support for our movement has increased considerably.”
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Have you received a response to your letter from the universities’ executive boards?
“They all replied that they could no longer cancel their own opening ceremonies, since all the arrangements had been made, which is pretty much what we were expecting to hear. Our call was more of a symbolic gesture. But everyone told us they support our action.
“Several rectors and presidents of executive boards are publicly supporting us, such as Carel Stolker of Leiden University. Several deans have told us they will be attending our True Opening Ceremony. Some universities are planning to broadcast a live feed on a large screen. By now we have received the Young Academy’s support, too.”
Does it matter to you how the people running the universities feel?
“We are a movement run by employees and students, not an employers’ organisation. It’s great that they are behind us, but we care first and foremost about protecting our own interests. We no longer believe that the presidents of the universities’ executive boards are capable of coming up with solutions. Our workloads have not been reduced, and we are receiving less and less money. We wish to show that we ourselves receive plenty of support.”
Has the Minister for Education received an invitation, as well?
“She is very welcome to come and join us. But, quite apart from this event, I have another meeting with her scheduled. But typically, these conversations bear no fruit. Although, every once in a while, a loophole is found. Then we’ll be offered some more money, such as the additional 41 million euro injection into departments offering STEM degrees.
“However, during those meetings the Minister never makes any promises, and I can’t prove that there is a connection between our conversations and the visible results. It’s hard to demonstrate that correlation implies causation in this respect. I apologise for that sciency way of putting it, ha ha.”
So do you think this protest action will be any use?
“That obviously remains to be seen. We are trying to increase the pressure and are already considering the next steps to be taken. This is a testing moment designed to allow us to check whether we have enough support to move on to more serious actions, such as longer strikes.”
The ‘True Opening of the Academic Year’ will be held at Het Gerecht, a square in Leiden where people used to be executed, on Monday, 2 September. Between 3pm and 5pm, academics representing different disciplines will give brief presentations on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the consequences of the Netherlands’ science policy of the last twenty years.