• university of the north

    Too big for Groningen

    The RUG has big plans for an eleventh faculty in Leeuwarden, the capitol city of Friesland. But a lot of details – and a lot of people – still have to be filled in.
    in short

    In January, an announcement was made that the RUG would be starting a second University College in Leeuwarden. Together with the University Campus Fryslân, it will become the eleventh faculty of the RUG.

    Members of the University Council, the existing University College Groningen, opposition political parties in Friesland and other parties involved with UCF feel they were not part of the decision-making process.

    The plans were announced despite a striking lack of concrete information: the curriculum, location, staff and financing of the new programme are not yet confirmed. The reason seems to be that UCF needed back up.

    Although UCF has existed for several years, the eleventh faculty and second University College plans seem to have been developed and pursued more hastily.

    Jouke de Vries will become the dean of the eleventh faculty on 1 May. There was no public vacancy for the position, and he accepted the job on the condition that he could also continue teaching.

    A number of the key members in the development of the plans are members of PvdA, although they insist that politics did not play a role in the formulation of these plans.

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    Abbreviation list:

    D66 = Social democratic party
    NHL = Northern Applied Science School Leeuwarden
    PvdA = Labour party
    RUG = University of Groningen
    Stenden = Stenden University of Applied Sciences 

    UC = University College
    UCF = University Campus Fryslân
    UCG = University College Groningen
    UTwente = University of Twente
    = Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences
    WUR = Wageningen University

    Inside the minty green meeting room at the Administration building, young socialist party ROOD protestors sat politely in the gallery holding handmade cardboard signs. At the University council meeting in late February, they sought to show their solidarity with University of Amsterdam students who have occupied campus buildings for weeks. The ROOD students at the RUG are also alarmed by the lack of transparency in decision making at the university.

    One month before the demonstration, RUG president Sibrand Poppema, Frisian labour party PvdA leader Jannewietske de Vries and Jouke de Vries, dean of the faculty Campus The Hague of Leiden University, made an announcement that, for some, illustrated how opaque that decision making can be: the RUG would be starting a second University College in Friesland as a part of the existing University Campus Fryslân and would, together, form the eleventh faculty of the RUG  

    Un-Dutch optimism

    Everyone involved in the formation of the second University College seem very un-Dutch in their optimism that everything will just work out. That isn’t to suggest that they don’t have good reason. The desire for university education in general and a university college in particular have been brought up in Friesland repeatedly over the past decade, but they were suddenly taken more seriously over the past year.

    The announcement of the University College as part of the eleventh faculty came as a surprise to many, including the existing University College in Groningen, the University Council and at least one of the opposition political parties in Friesland.

    Margreet Mulder, a party leader in the liberal democratic party D66 in Friesland, says that she and her fellow party members didn’t know what to make of the news. In early 2015, the results of an evaluation of phase one of UCF were published, including recommendations for UCF to find a way to attract more students and better connect to the themes the applied science schools and businesses in the area focus on. Along with that came the news of the RUG’s plans to pursue a University College. ‘If, all of a sudden, this offer from Groningen is also on the table, the first question that comes to mind for me is: is that the best solution to improve and benefit UCF?’ she says.

    Déjà vu

    The plans for the University College are not the first time that the RUG has tried to get a foothold in Friesland by offering a bachelor degree programme. Liesbert Lubberink is a graduate of SSWL, Subfaculty Social Sciences Leeuwarden, the RUG’s first Frisian branch. Together with a programme called Agogic Academy Friesland, SSWL focused on wellness issues.

    It opened in 1976 and was closed by 1985. It was set up during a time period that experimental education models were supported by the education minister, but when a new cabinet took power, the programme ended. Halfway through her degree programme, Lubberink and her classmates had to start travelling to Groningen three days a week for classes in order to graduate.

    Even though the education model ended, Lubberink is optimistic about the University College plans. ‘I think it’s great, I see it as a way to make the north stronger. In that sense, I think it’s really good that a branch is coming to Leeuwarden.’

    The message stating that Jouke de Vries had been appointed dean also seemed to be putting the cart before the horse. ‘For us, it was just totally opposite of the order it should have gone’, Mulder says. ‘It leads you to think that there are other motivations at play, and I think it’s wrong if you don’t say that.’

    The second UC aims to eventually attract 600 students to live and study in Leeuwarden. Between UCF and the second University College, 1,000 RUG students will be studying in Friesland in a few years time, hopefully.

    ‘It’s a process’

    The name University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either. ‘It’s a process’, Jouke de Vries says. ‘I’m developing something.’ He will become dean of the fledgling faculty in Leeuwarden in May. He attributes the surprised reactions to the tendency of university staff and politicians alike to take these sorts of things too slowly.

    He wants to get going as soon as possible. ‘It’s a little bit jumping in, you’re right’ – he says, thumping his hand on the table in front of him – ‘not to conclusions, but to start an enterprise.’

    It’s clear that he’s all in, even as he acknowledges just how many details still seriously need to be filled in. They don’t know where the students will live, where classes will be given, who will give them or even exactly what will be taught, much less how it will all be paid for and by whom.

    He’s seated on the second floor of the white mansion where UCF is currently housed, an extremely short walk from the main train station in Leeuwarden. It’s across the street from the VVV tourist office, selling products plastered with the blue stripes and red lily pads of the Frisian flag.

    As the VVV reiterates, Leeuwarden is one of the famous eleven Frisian cities from the Elfstedentocht ice skating race – Jouke de Vries doesn’t miss a chance to point out the poetic justice of UCF forming the eleventh faculty. But the city has had a reputation basically forever of being a place where nothing happens: ‘It was nothing, it is nothing and it will never be anything’ is one pessimistic but persistent saying about Leeuwarden throughout the province and beyond.

    But Jouke de Vries, who, like many of the members behind UCF, is Frisian, disagrees. He thinks Leeuwarden will absolutely become something – he has a lot of faith in it, and a lot at stake in that coming true. The whole city does: in 2018, it’s going to be the European Capitol of Culture.

    Read more: A fitting crown

    Leeuwarden’s biggest shortcoming is that it’s just not a very lively place. Relatively few students actually live in the city: at the three applied science schools, 22,000 students are enrolled, but only roughly 7,800 of them live in Leeuwarden  . In comparison, 30,000 students are estimated to live in Groningen  . The idea behind the UC seems to be, ‘if you build it, they will come.’

    As for housing, there are options. A student campus across the street from two merging applied science schools – Stenden and NHL – is under construction. Empty office space in the city, like De Terp on the Goudenregenstraat, the former Dienst Landelijk Gebied on the Tesselschadestraat and the old KPN building on the Tweebaksmarkt are also being converted for potential use by students  . But the UC will be a residential college, meaning classes and housing will form a small bubble within the city.

    And the UCF itself? At the moment, it’s distributed across the applied science schools, Wetsus, Tresoar and Dairy Campus. Former RUG rector and current UCF director Frans Zwarts (who declined to be interviewed for this article) and Jouke de Vries make no secret about their aspirations toward De Kanselarij, resembling a miniature version of the Groningen Academy Building, as a fitting crown in the city.

    Get the ball rolling

    Although UCF plans have been around for years, the University College is a relatively recent development. Thanks to a reconstructed timeline by Leeuwarder Courant political reporter Atze Jan de Vries, it becomes clear: it may have been something that many in Friesland have long hoped for, but the RUG powers-that-be really got the ball rolling about a year ago.

    In April of 2014, former RUG rector and current UCF board member Frans Zwarts called current RUG rector Elmer Sterken and had a conversation about a second UC. Then, in September, Zwarts spoke about the possibility publically – one day after education minister Jet Bussemaker (also a PvdA member) visited academic institutions in Leeuwarden and Groningen. In January 2015, Frisian PvdA party leader Jannewietske de Vries also told the Leeuwarder Courant that minister Bussemaker was positive about the University College plans.

    But Jouke de Vries – who was also a high ranking member of the PvdA several years ago – says that this was far from just a whim. ‘Frans Zwarts mentioned to me at some point that, in Groningen, there was an idea to develop something like Philosophy, Politics and Economics – like the programmes at Oxford or Cambridge.’ In 2013, that was supposed to be the curriculum of the UCG   . Now, Jouke de Vries has taken that idea and decided to run with it, as well as adding Psychology to the mix.

    Jouke de Vries is a political scientist, and these academic fields together are dear to him – but it’s not actually a sure thing that this altogether new curriculum will be approved by the NVAO, the Dutch accreditation committee who decides the fate of proposed programmes.

    ‘They’re catching up’

    ‘Things are changing very rapidly now, and I think the Ministry of Education will change. They’re catching up to the locations and branches becoming more important’, Jouke de Vries says. ‘We are now more used to the idea of university colleges. We were the first one in Utrecht and, at the time, everyone in Leiden was saying, ‘What are they going to do? What is this?’ That was a big change in the landscape of the universities, and now, everyone knows what a liberal arts and sciences programme is, and it’s popular for students.’

    Hans van Ees, dean of the University College Groningen, makes a similar argument. ‘We think that there is a growing market for students who want to become well-rounded.’ Students who want to distinguish themselves from others and gain more autonomy over the choice of their courses are drawn to the small-scale, exclusive education offered at a UC. ‘They are willing to pay something extra for that.’

    Still, it struck many at the RUG as strange that the UCG was not consulted before the plans for the second UC were made public. Rob van Ouwekerk, a member of the UCG board, said that the staff on the Hoendiepskade read it in the exclusive story in the Leeuwarder Courant and its sister publication, Dagblad van het Noorden – the Groningen newspaper. Poppema says that was a mistake and has apologised to the faculty for the oversight.

    But the members of the University Council also found out in the paper. Chair of the University Council, Hilly Mast, says that is not acceptable. ‘That’s not how you want it to happen. You don’t have a participation council on behalf of the personnel and students for nothing.’

    ‘If we want to add something new like this, that means more money, which could be at the expense of the University College and possibly at the expense of the normal education. That’s why we really wish we had been informed sooner about all of this’, Mast says.

    ‘I want to see that on paper’

    Poppema, on the other hand, says that the Council was involved in the discussions about the planned upgrades to UCF, but the actual decision making comes down to the individual RUG faculties. Each has to decide for itself whether or not to participate in the UCF programme.

    University College Groningen

    ‘A University College is an expensive kid’, Hilly Mast says. She’s not joking: the budget for UCG is as much as 1.7 million euros in some years. The faculty has already increased its proposed tuition fee by 200 euros – up to 4,000 – and has spent around 50,000 euros in advertising to recruit students.

    Currently, UCG has 33 students, but the number they really need to be financially sound is 200 a year. Living expenses are projected to be around 10,600 euros annually per student, and they will eventually move into under construction facilities in the Ebbinge quarter.

    The tuition would likely be similar for the second University College – most charge around 4,000 euros in the Netherlands – but Leeuwarden is a less expensive city than Groningen, so living expenses will probably be lower, too. Since the plans for housing may use existing buildings in the city, their expenses may also be lower than the projected 3.8 million euros that UCG needs as of 2018.

    But where is the money for this second University College, announced less than a year after UCG started teaching its very first students, coming from? Jouke de Vries says, ‘The parties want to develop a kind of fund with a lot of money from organisations in Friesland. I want to have a fundraising campaign – we have to start it, I’ll be honest with you.’ He’s got a guy in Drachten who’s a crowdfunding whiz, he says. Poppema says that the province of Friesland and the RUG’s own Ubbo Emmius Fund will be part of that. ‘And maybe some very rich Frisian people will donate some money’, Jouke de Vries adds.

    That’s not good enough for Mast. ‘If everything will be paid for by Friesland, that would be great, but I want to see that on paper. What is the financial basis for that? Anything is possible. So far, all we have gotten is an announcement.’

    The cost

    In discussions of the plans with the University Council in January, President Poppema insisted that Friesland is footing the bill – but Jouke says they’re going Dutch. ‘There is a cooperation between the province and the municipality. They are supporting this idea, and the University of Groningen has to do something – in kind, of course’, Jouke de Vries says. However, municipality employee and CDA (Call for Christian Democracy party) member Thea Koster says that the municipality will not be contributing to the fund – only to the infrastructure, which basically means housing.

    Financing: past, present and future

    The first phase of UCF – from 2010 to 2015 – cost 16,381,000 euros. Of that, fourteen million came from the province of Friesland and two million came from the municipality of Leeuwarden. UCF will continue to rely on these funding sources for the foreseeable future. Funding for the University College remains to be seen.

    The External Evaluation of UCF, published in July 2014, explains that UCF depends on ‘structural co-funding by and cooperation with universities’; namely, the RUG, Wageningen and UTwente. The Evaluation also says that research projects should eventually be financed by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and/or cooperation with businesses and governments. But for now, the province of Friesland and municipality of Leeuwarden remain responsible for much of the financing.

    According to Poppema, the province of Friesland – in the form of a ‘very significant’ contribution – will cover the initial costs for the second University College. The second phase of UCF will begin soon and there is a rough road map for continued funding.

    Representative Jannewietske de Vries expands on that. ‘We have a sum of 3.5 million euros available now to get started and that is coming from the Nuon money.’ That is a fund of 1.5 billion euros that Friesland received from the sale of parts of the utility company Nuon. The province has invested the money in various infrastructure projects in recent years.

    But before any money goes to the second UC, everyone is still very much focused on making sure UCF is sustainable first. A regional fund of 100 million euros is needed to fund ten master’s programmes at UCF, and the plan is to only rely on the interest from that for funding the master’s. The fact that interest rates are historically low at the moment hasn’t been addressed in those plans.

    Poppema prefers to be optimistic and assumes that interest rates will eventually rise: ‘If you would make four per cent on that, it would be four million euros you could use’, he says. ‘If you have four million a year in funding out of education and another four million for research, you’re in great shape.’

    But in the first year, that money won’t be there. Providing there’s money from the province of Friesland for the 35 PhD students who are also working there through UCF, then participating faculties get ‘free’ PhD students, ‘free’ publications and, in the end, a promotion bonus – that should make up for the initial lack of funding for research, Poppema says.

    Rep. De Vries concedes that it is still a work in progress. ‘The RUG will set up the masters and make an ‘in kind’ contribution, and tuition fees will also contribute. That’s how we see it, but it still has to be discussed by the RUG and the province.’

    Read more: How UCF works

    Wageningen, UTwente and Delft are also partners in the UCF platform – they chip in financially, too. Take the Environmental and Energy Management master programme, for example. Since 1999, Twente has offered it in Friesland, but it’s not funded by the state – that means that it’s primarily international students enrolling in the master, and they pay between 10,000 and 12,500 euros in tuition fees. UCF and UTwente are aiming to attract more Dutch students soon by requesting funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

    The programme has around 25 students now, but Poppema describes how a new version, focused on enrolling Dutch students, would work with a class size of 40: ‘The income is about 400,000 euros per program. When you have ten programs, you have an income of around four million euros. You can pay the staff from that money’,  Poppema says.

    Further development of the master remains the responsibility of the involved universities, though: since the master is from UTwente, they ‘carry the risk’ and are thus responsible, according to Frans Coenen, managing director of the Twente Centre for Studies in Technology and Sustainable Development.

    Not competing

    Other involved parties include the applied science schools in Leeuwarden, where students can also get a bachelor degree. Part of the plan for UCF’s future is to permit applied science bachelor students to flow into these master’s programmes. In the first year of their bachelor, students can choose to either do a special university master prep programme or follow the normal bachelor programme.

    Who will be teaching them? ‘We will partly use their staff, we will appoint staff, but also some of our staff in Groningen will go to Friesland’, Poppema says. That means considerable changes at the applied schools themselves.

    Another reason for the RUG to run full steam ahead with both the UCF and the second University College is twofold: they can shift the balance toward more master’s students through adding UCF programmes and add more excellence tracks for bachelors through the second University College.

    But until the University College plans become a reality, the applied science schools are the only institutions where students can get a bachelor’s degree in Friesland – back in 2002, all Dutch higher education institutions had to begin recognizing bachelor and master degrees in keeping with international standards. That is worth noting because, according to Atze Jan de Vries, there were also talks back then about creating a University College in Friesland by Bertus Mulder, rep. De Vries’ predecessor.

    But those plans were shot down because the applied science schools did not want the competition from a UC at the time. Now, evidently, they’re willing to cooperate. Leendert Klaassen, president of the executive board at Stenden University of Applied Science, says: ‘The added value of such a system is achieved by working together and not being in competition with each other.’

    Working with businesses

    Not coincidentally, there is a lot of overlap between the curricula of the other applied science schools and the UCF masters, including water management from Van Hall Larenstein and game development from NHL. UCF has appointed several lecturers at these schools as well.

    UCF’s model for several of its masters – namely water management and dairy production – is to also work directly with local institutions like Wetsus and Dairy Campus to prepare students to become their employees once they graduate. But Wetsus director Cees Buisman says that he is not sure what their role will be in the future.

    ‘It is indeed unclear to us how this collaboration with the RUG will fit into an eleventh faculty. We assume that as the plans become clearer, we will hear more about it. After all, the dean will only be starting on 1 May.’

    Another major company – Philips Drachten – is part of the High Tech Systems and Materials master. In 2013, Frans Zwarts explained in Frisian magazine De Moanne: ‘The idea is that we can channel more Dutch students into a business in this way, because Philips has a lot of difficulty attracting people to Drachten, even from the north.’

    ‘UCF fulfils a connecting function between university education and Frisian companies’, he said. At UCF, that means letting companies set the tone for exactly what kind of employees they need and, in turn, the students have a far better chance of getting a job there once they get their diploma.

    Jouke de Vries is considering pursuing that model for the University College as well. Which companies may participate has not been publically discussed so far.

    ‘That is the way I have done it’

    Jouke de Vries’ job is not only to combine the UCF and the future University College into one campus, which includes overseeing the curriculum and the funding. He accepted the position of dean on the condition that he could also continue teaching.

    ‘In the negotiations, I said, ‘If you want me as the dean, I want to be a professor at the University in Groningen.’ That is the way I have done it’, he says.

    His credentials inspire confidence: he was named dean of the Campus The Hague of Leiden University in 1999 and, over the past fifteen years, helped it to become Leiden University College The Hague. He appears to have been the chosen one to lead UCF from the earliest stages of the development, long before anyone had uttered a word about a University College. He describes himself as one of the founding fathers of UCF and has been a member of the supervisory board for years.

    It may not come as much of a surprise, then, that there wasn’t a public vacancy for the position of dean posted. But that troubles University Council chair Hilly Mast, too. ‘At a certain point, someone is just named. That’s fine, because he’s very experienced, but you could also have made that a public vacancy.’

    President Poppema says there really wasn’t any point. ‘We had an excellent candidate that we could trust and that the province of Friesland has great confidence in, and he has the experience of setting up a University College and a university branch in The Hague already’, he says. ‘Then, you could do a procedure, but that wouldn’t make any sense.’

    Mast says the Council felt that they were just finding out all of this – the University College, the dean, the funding suggestions – when the rest of the world did, and that’s not right. ‘A University College is an important, strategic choice, and we felt that this is definitely not something that you simply make an announcement about. You have to share that with the students and employees, and the existing University College.’

    Jouke de Vries understands that some members of the Council may have felt they were kept out of the loop up until now, but, on the other hand, ‘If all the details were there, they would say to me, ‘You have done the work, why didn’t you consult us?’

    Read more: Timing

    While the lack of details made the timing of the late January announcement puzzling to some, provincial representative Jannewietske de Vries seeks to explain. She insists that it has nothing to do with the upcoming provincial elections on 18 March, even though she is one of the top candidates for the PvdA in Friesland. Instead, in the interest of making a continued investment in UCF seem attractive, she, Jouke de Vries and RUG president Poppema went ahead and put the plans out there.

    ‘We have already been working on these plans for a long time and have invested in the first phase of UCF’, she says. ‘We have evaluated that after the first phase and we saw that we needed a structural anchoring from the university ambitions.’ In other words: UCF needed some back up.

    For phase two of UCF, the financing isn’t set in stone. Rep. De Vries says, ‘For the masters, financing will come from normal funding from the State, from tuition fees – there are already six being prepared for accreditation. As for research, we are looking at how to finance that in the longer term.‘ The first phase of UCF will end this year, and Rep. De Vries says UCF needs strong partners for the second phase. President Poppema agrees: in the earliest stages of the plans for what would become UCF, he told the directors, ‘this will only work when RUG really becomes involved and will be in charge.’

    De Vries mafia

    Who is really in charge – be it a university, province or political party – doesn’t matter to Jouke de Vries. ‘Of course you need your networks and connections, but you can’t build a university with just one party.’ But that network is certainly populated by a whole lot of PvdA members. Jouke de Vries believes in the adage that there’s no republican or democratic way to build a road. He jokes that it’s no political conspiracy, but De Vries mafia instead.

    There is also a lot of good will in Friesland for the plans – two VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) members even published an editorial in the Leeuwarder Courant voicing their support. Be that as it may, D66 leader Mulder points out that it seems the plans came together with little consultation of other political parties. ‘One thing that is clear is that a lot of the people involved have the same political views’, she says. ‘If you bring that back to the basics, it’s about spending the tax money of the citizens, and not all of them are PvdA members.’

    Jouke de Vries point out that the board of overseers of UCF are representatives of D66, CDA and VVD. As for the UCF staff, he sees this time period as an opportunity to build something. ‘I want to attract a lot of people from Groningen, but also from the knowledge institutions here in Leeuwarden and people from private companies to develop the curriculum of the university.’

    And then there’s Dwingeloo

    Friesland isn’t the only northern province becoming an academic colony of the RUG. As of next year, the master programme Advanced Instrumentation will begin in collaboration with Astron, located in the town of Dwingeloo in the province of Drenthe.

    Ard van der Tuuk, PvdA member of the provincial council of Drenthe, is responsible for education and economics. He was involved in the collaboration between the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy Astron in Dwingeloo and the RUG.

    ‘I think it is interesting to see that the RUG is spreading its wings in the province,’ says Van der Tuuk. Because of geographical proximity, it seems logical that the RUG is looking for possibilities in Drenthe. Another reason for this is a changing society: companies want students who are able to apply their knowledge, he continues.

    Financing for this project will be a mix of both the RUG and the province of Drenthe, which has a kitty for stimulating economic and structural reinforcement. ‘You have to think about tens of thousands of euros,’ Van der Tuuk explains. This money is freely available and does not cause cutbacks in other projects, he says. There are also already plans being developed for a chemicals programme in collaboration with the Stenden branch in Emmen.

    But the risk of losing people to Leeuwarden is one of Mast’s many concerns. ‘Will we end up taking all of that expertise out of Groningen as soon as this new kid shows up?’

    So far, the only public appointment that has been made to the new UCF staff, aside from Jouke de Vries, is Piet Bouma. He is the outgoing communications director for the RUG, and he says that his new role as a project manager will include communications tasks in addition to helping set up the faculty. The appointment was announced on the short-lived University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân Wikipedia page

    Unanswered questions

    Although president Poppema and Jouke de Vries have full faith in the demand for University College education, Mast is not so sure. For her, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

    ‘If another location with 600 students comes along, what does that mean for the influx of students? Will people choose Groningen, or will they choose Leeuwarden? What does that mean for the course offerings? How do you differentiate yourself? Will the UCG succeed? What are the experiences in the first year? Is it a good idea? Why are you going ahead with this already? Does this come at the expense of the current University College, if not the regular education we offer here?’

    ‘It would have been a logical choice to get everything on the rails here, including teaching experience and then, at that point, find out what you can do in Leeuwarden’, she concludes.

    Jouke de Vries isn’t worried. ‘You can work together, that is my answer. Sometimes, a little bit of competition can help both organisations.’ Still, he knows from experience that it takes time. ‘To develop a University College, it takes two or three years. By then, the UCG will have grown up – no problem.’

    Mulder would like to be so optimistic, but there’s still so little information that it’s hard to get behind the plans fully. ‘It’s possible that too much information is being withheld, but it’s also possible that there is a lack of support and structure to the plans. That’s difficult to tell now, because you can’t see any structure when you read the plans.’

    An outline for more concrete plans for the second University College is expected either this summer or early fall. But what if it doesn’t work out? ‘It will succeed’, Jouke de Vries says. ‘Otherwise, I wouldn’t start.’

    Jeanine Duijst and Christiaan Triebert also contributed to this article.

    Window of a barbershop in the historic centre of Leeuwarden