Five issues to vote on (or not)

Elections for the University Council are next week. Don’t know who to vote for? The UK spoke with Henk-Jan Wondergem (Lijst Calimero), Jasper Been (DAG), and Zeger Glas (SOG) to find out their takes on some important topics.
By Freek Schueler and Wigger Brouwer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

1. A branch campus in Yantai (China) is a good idea

Henk-Jan Wondergem, Lijst Calimero:

‘Yantai is only a good idea if it actually benefits education. In the current plans, Dutch instructors will have to go to China. We don’t think that’s a good idea, because it doesn’t help education in the Netherlands. And what if the campus in Yantai is a flop? That could be quite harmful to the RUG’s reputation, as well as to the value of the diplomas that Dutch students earn. So we’re not completely against a campus in Yantai, but the plan needs to be implemented well.’

Jasper Been, DAG:

‘Imagine if it all works out. Will it actually improve the university? No. We will have made the university bigger, completely in line with a company’s expansion needs. Will Yantai improve education in Groningen? No. Will Yantai improve research in Groningen? No. We therefore don’t understand why the other parties want to join the Board of Directors on this paid trip to Yantai. Because they don’t have to go to China to understand these fundamental objections.’

Zeger Glas, SOG:

‘We’re critical, but we are not rejecting it out of hand. There is potential here, and we see that potential. But it needs to be judged critically, and it’s important that the Groningen students’ interests don’t suffer because of it. If we work together, we can improve education in the future both over there and here, but right now it’s still too early for that.’

2. The more internationals, the better, hoe beter

Lijst Calimero:

‘We shouldn’t internationalise just for the sake of internationalisation. It has to serve as a means of improving education. To us, quality of education is a priority. If internationalisation improves education, then by all means, let’s do more of it. If it doesn’t, we don’t think it has any added value.’


‘No, because the RUG isn’t trying to lure international students to Groningen for the right reasons. Currently, international students are just seen as something that brings in money. We would like to set up a diversity-based internationalisation policy which appreciates the various methodologies and views, and therefore nationalities, at the university. More does not always equal better.’


‘This makes it sound like international students are arriving at the Academy building by the busload, which obviously isn’t true. ‘The more internationals, the better’ sounds like we don’t care who comes over, as long as they have a passport. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that. But the fact that the RUG is committed to getting more international students is positive, and we certainly feel that the RUG can benefit from international students.’

3. The University Council has too many closed-door meetings

Lijst Calimero:

‘Our key principle is transparency: everything should be public. Things should only be secret when there is a really good reason to keep something confidential – if it threatens the interests of the RUG, for example.’


‘We want the university to be as transparent as possible. So many things are made confidential out of a fear of a bad reputation. But if there’s any place where open debate should be possible, it’s a university. But that’s currently impossible because the RUG is being run as though it’s a company. The university is not a business with competitors, it has no shareholders. We need to find a way out of this culture of fear.’


‘The main thing that should be improved is the way the university communicates with its students. It’s important for them to be open about things and to communicate what you do and how you do it as clearly as possible. We do believe that some things are necessarily confidential. But they have to be as open as possible in order for people to know what’s going on at the RUG.’

4. All lectures at the RUG should be in English

Lijst Calimero:

‘That’s an absurd proposal. A class on Dutch law should never be taught in English. Only if the English actually improves the quality of education should it be used. And before we do that instructors need to learn proper English, because not all of them do: many students complain about their instructors’ bad English.’


‘The university is a public institution. In addition to its global mission, it also has obligations to our own society. The majority of students end up in a normal ‘Dutch’ work environment. Therefore we should focus on Dutch in addition to English. Each programme should be trusted to make its own decisions and should take the level of English among its instructors into consideration in those decisions.’


‘Having all classes in English is nonsense. There are programmes where Dutch is just fine, so their classes should be taught in Dutch. On the other hand: the majority of students are being trained for a labour market where English language skills are increasingly important. We think that the fact that many classes are being taught in English is a good thing. But where does usefulness end and excessiveness begin? The RUG should be critical and strive for a good balance between Dutch and English.’

5. The collaborations between the RUG and businesses pose a threat to academic freedom

Lijst Calimero:

‘We wouldn’t call it a threat, but academic freedom should be guaranteed. Sixty per cent of research is financed through external financing from businesses. That shouldn’t be a problem as long as the independence of the research is guaranteed. Researchers should be able to decide for themselves what they research.’


‘We should definitely have that connection with businesses. But the university should not let them dictate what it does, which is what’s happening right now. In many cases, businesses dictate scientists’ subjects and research questions. That can be fatal to academic quality. An example: In order to get their bachelor diplomas, communication students had to do a case study with GasTerra, with its main statement: come up with a plan to restore support for gas extraction. So it’s immediately obvious what happens when businesses dictate which questions should be asked.’


‘Many students actually enjoy the connections to businesses. They benefit from practice-oriented education: it gives them the feeling they are being properly prepared for their careers. Involving the business world through guest lectures or internships is a positive thing and should be stimulated. As far as research financed by business is concerned: we should look at that on a case-by-case basis.’


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