The action plan states, among other things, that if higher education is not more diverse within five years, a quota may have to be introduced. This would then be overseen by a national advisory committee. Why should you register the ethnicity and migrant background of students and staff? the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), which voted against the plan. That would be ‘undesirable’. You have to judge people on their qualities, and not on their ethnic background, the party claimed.
At the presentation of the plan early September. Read on:
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It was a fierce debate. If each individual would be judged on their own qualities and talents, higher education would look more diverse, Van Engelshoven pointed out.
But that did not convince the MPs from the VVD, CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) and CU (Christian Union) parties. They managed to push their motions through, together (with opposition parties such as the SGP (Reformed Political Party), the PVV (Party for Freedom) and the FvD (Forum for Democracy). Their message to the Minister was: Stop registering ethnic origins and do not create a ‘barometer’ for diversity in higher education.
According to the SGP, the quality of education and research should be the guiding principle and an ‘activist stance on diversity’ could be at odds with this. Consequently, the government should ‘actively and explicitly’ guarantee that the commitment to diversity does not detract from the quality, in the words of one motion.
It also won a majority, as did another SGP motion warning against the use of ‘diversity police’. The advent of diversity officers is a thorn in the side of the party. The Christian politicians believe that the government should not commit itself to this.
The only ‘left-wing’ motion that made it through concerned pregnancy discrimination. The government should find out how many women drop out of the sciences as a result of pregnancy, according to the Green Left (GroenLinks) and the Labour Party (PvdA). Practically everyone thought that was a good idea.
But should you take measures to ensure that women are given equal pay? Should you focus on social safety nets? Should you make agreements with governing bodies in order to give everyone in higher education equal opportunities, regardless of gender, origin and age, as was stated in another motion? No, apparently the majority think that this is over the top.
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So, what now?
It remains to be seen what this will mean for the action plan. The arrival of a national knowledge centre for diversity and inclusion may be delayed if the government is no longer involved.
But the universities can pursue policies as they see fit, also in the area of diversity. Which indicators they use and whether they employ diversity officers is also their own decision.
The ballots prompted a lot of reactions. On Twitter, President Ineke Sluiter of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences referred to the motions as bewildering. “However, we will, of course, continue working with this action plan.”