Minister Bussemaker has assured the RUG that the necessary legal changes, which would enable the university to offer academic programmes in the Chinese city of Yantai, would be made before March 2017. With the Christmas recess on the horizon, a vote on the new law may be postponed until after March, following Lower House elections. Whether the law will be accepted or not remains to be seen.
The Board of Directors is also growing concerned about the timing of the legal changes, according to RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens. ‘The Board of Directors feels that the new law is of great importance in setting up the branch campus’, he wrote in a statement on behalf of the board.
The RUG board’s comments came in response to a letter from the students and staff from the faculty council of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMNS), where the vast majority of the academic programmes tapped to be offered in Yantai come from.
The letter, addressed to the faculty board, states that the council members are ‘very worried’ about the ‘scope and speed’ of the plans to launch the programmes in Yantai. The students and staffers are still ‘not thoroughly convinced that opening a branch campus in Yantai in this manner is the best way to raise the profile of the RUG and to further pursue internationalisation.’
The council advises the faculty board against starting any programmes in Yantai under the current laws regarding higher education. According to council members, there have not yet been any concrete measures taken to ensure that the programmes in Groningen would not be at risk if anything were to go wrong with the sister programmes in Yantai.
Based on the current laws, responsibility for the programmes in China lies with the faculty, which means that a significant number of new hires will have to be made once the Yantai campus is launched. The students and staff are also concerned that the work load for at least a portion of the current staff will also increase as a result.
‘Under the current law, we have a lot of control (over the programmes in China, ed.), but that does mean that it will take a lot of effort’, faculty council chairperson Marc van der Maarel explains. ‘Then, it’s a matter of how we can arrange that and if we can find the people who are willing to do it. To that, we say: you should not do it. That would put our existing programme at risk.’
According to the FMNS faculty council, ‘clarity about tangible deadlines’ is also missing from the programme set-up in Yantai. For now, the RUG is assuming that the programmes will start in September of next year. According to the council members, however, that is ‘undesirable’.
Even if the legislative change – the definition of which remains unknown – goes into effect, the Groningen parent programmes and the Chinese sister programmes will partially depend on each other. The council is therefore advising the FMNS faculty board against offering any programmes in Yantai ‘as long as the safety of the accreditation and the independence of the FMNS programmes cannot be guaranteed’.
At the time of publication, the faculty board had not yet responded to the UK’s questions about the letter. The board members discussed the matter last week with the Board of Directors. According to Van der Maarel, the board has three months to formally respond to the council’s advice. The council expects the letter will be discussed next week during a meeting with the faculty board.
‘We support the internationalisation of the programmes’, says Van der Maarel. ‘A branch campus fits in with that. But it should be done in such a way that it’s not to the detriment of our own programmes. The faculty board can appreciate this.’