The protesters stood on the banks of the pond wearing black berets with a red square attached to them (i.e. square academic caps), which have become the symbol of protesting academics. Some protesters were wearing their full professors’ gowns, while others wore snorkelling fins, snorkelling masks and goggles. They were holding up banners and cardboard signs bearing slogans.

Drowning in responsibilities

Van Engelshoven op de campus_foto’s door Aysha (7)

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MPs representing many different parties (including some newly formed and elected parties) came to watch the event, although some of them were quick to leave. Pieter Duisenberg, chair of VSNU (the Association of Universities in the Netherlands), ended up addressing some seven MPs. “We are drowning in responsibilities”, he told them.

Afterwards, the MPs were addressed by representatives of WOinActie, the FNV trade union and the ISO student union, all of whom explained that workloads in higher education have become unhealthily heavy, which is not good for anyone, be they academic staff or students.

Freya Chiappino, vice-president of the National Student Union, was the only one using a megaphone. First she asked the attendees not to stand so close to each other. A little guiltily, they all spread out. Then she called on MPs to alleviate academics’ workloads by allocating more funding to the higher education sector. “Make sure our lecturers don’t email us in the wee hours of the night. Make sure they are not absolutely exhausted when they teach their lectures.”


Protest in Den Haag
VSNU President Pieter Duisenberg speaking to the press after his splash in the water. Image credit: Feba Sukmana

Then a siren blared and drums were beaten. The protesters, looking determined, entered the pond just outside the Houses of Parliament, wearing wetsuits under their clothes. Duisenberg wore his grey suit with a pink tie. The protesters splashed the water or held up their fingers from the water as if they were treading water.

Once they emerged from the water, they wrapped golden space blankets around themselves. “It was cold but necessary”, said Duisenberg, still wearing his dripping wet suit. He said the action was supported by a report on the funding of the higher education sector recently released by PwC. Employers, too, want the government to allocate more funding to knowledge and science, and protests are being staged in all university towns in the Netherlands. “It’s a pretty serious problem, don’t you think?”