‘Just a challenging new step’

Joost Herman, chair holder Globalisation Studies and Humanitarian Action, is in favour of the RUG’s plans to open a branch campus in Yantai as part of the ongoing globalisation of higher education. ‘It is necessary for those supporting the initiative to make themselves heard as well.’

Dear Editorial Board,

Looking back at the past couple of months of UK reports on Yantai, the 4th of November article being the latest, I would like to make a few remarks. Firstly, it seems to me through your reporting the suggestion is made that the Yantai initiative of the University of Groningen pivots around the person of Prof. Poppema, who as a kind of stand-alone actor wants to get his way irrespective of massive resistance in the organisation itself.

Indeed, in the many articles (and the headings) written on the subject, those who are skeptical if not downright opposed to the Groningen branch campus have been given ample opportunity to make themselves heard. For a balanced discussion, however, it is necessary for those supporting the initiative to make themselves heard as well. This letter to you is such an attempt from an organisational as well as an academic point of view.

Undeniable opportunities

Organisationally, it is my firm knowledge-based conviction that around the university – be it in institutional settings such as the U-Raad, the Supervisory Board and the various Faculty Boards and the staff at large – that many support the Yantai initiative for the strategic goals it aims to achieve for the long term benefit of the University and the undeniable opportunities it will offer to individual academics and programmes and/or departments both in the short as well as the long term.

Many of the colleagues that I speak to are themselves already for many years deeply involved in international academic co-operation, joint degree programmes and participation in one another’s educational and research programmes. Yantai is ‘just’ a challenging new step in the ongoing globalisation of the higher education arena. The Board of Directors of this University is very supportive of these internationalisation activities and through Yantai, it offers a new dimension to Groningen as two-way global gateway to knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination.

Tough decisions

The board has created all kinds of platforms to discuss the idea and to stimulate (critical) input from all staff members, so creating the image of an isolated leader who wants to press ahead without consulting the troops or presenting them with precooked decisions isn’t a true depiction of reality and frames the whole initiative in a negative way with adverse consequences.

For example, in The Hague, some parliamentarians use UK-disseminated information (Van Dijk and Mohandis) to criticise developments that seemingly they do not grasp. Indeed, every organisation needs a leader who in the end is responsible for taking tough and inspiring decisions based on the best possible information and input from his or her staff. I recognise prof. Poppema is doing just that and for just cause.

Benefitting from such a ready-made opportunity with such extremely favourable financial underpinnings (externally funded, private sector involvement) should be much more appreciated than seems to be the case at the moment.

An opportunity

Academically speaking, I do not have to repeat the arguments on the projected opportunities about guaranteeing student numbers in the long run, exposure to different academic climates for students and staff, career opportunities for staff making the University of Groningen an eligible employer for academic talent around the world, creation of global and regional visibility for the benefit of our ranking in the most important region in the world for the next decades to come, and access to research funding for joint projects of global societal importance, especially concerning health and sustainable governance in a multitude of issue areas, issues that in China and Asia at large are on top of the agenda.

Having a direct outreach with our own accredited and internationally appreciated curricula to thousands of students (instead of the limited number of Chinese students being able to afford to come to Groningen) is of great importance. Ask around the various knowledge institutes already active in China, ask their staff members about the very intense interaction with the Chinese students and staff, ask about their open mindedness and willingness to take in knowledge, and one will realise what an opportunity this is for Groningen.

Megalomania? How dares Parliamentarian Jasper van Dijk (Socialist Party) use this word? For me, it is vision based on realistic assessment for our 400-year-old university to live on as a globally relevant knowledge institute and as a co-creator of sustainable civilisation.

Joost Herman
Chair holder Globalisation Studies and Humanitarian Action
Globalisation Studies Groningen
University of Groningen