Waiting for the law
The RUG plans for a campus in Yantai are partially dependent on a governmental decree and a legislative change.
Whether that legislative change will actually happen remains to be seen. Due to the Christmas recess, the Lower House vote will most likely be moved to the new year.
Elections will be held in March. What the political climate will be after that is impossible to say.
The political parties are divided when it comes to Groningen’s Yantai plans. The VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy) is cautiously optimistic. D66 (Democrats ‘66), PVV (Freedom Party), and SP (Socialist Party) are opposed to the plans. PvdA (Labour Party), GroenLinks (GreenLeft), and CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) decline to state their positions.
The RUG would like to make a decision about moving forward with ‘Yantai’ in December, and staff and students at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMNS) would like clarity on the legislative change first.
That is because the law will also decide who will be responsible for the programmes in China. The faculty council is afraid the Groningen programmes will have less control over their sister programmes in China.
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Education minister Jet Bussemaker (PvdA/Labour Party) will soon present the Lower House in The Hague with a legislative change and an AMvB (governmental decree) that is meant to make Dutch campuses abroad possible.
The Groningen plans for the Yantai campus partially depend on it. The legislative change will enable universities to offer full programmes abroad. Currently, individual programmes can only be organised together with a foreign partner, such as a joint degree (where students do part of their studies abroad and part in Groningen). But before the Groningen programmes can be offered in their entirety in China, the law needs to be adapted.
And that is what the Chinese government wants as well. They do not like the idea of students being forced to study in Groningen. Without the legislative change, they will have to do a quarter of their studies in the Netherlands, and China is not in favour of that. Moreover, the Groningen faculties are nervous about having to suddenly accommodate hundreds of extra students a year should the legislative change not happen.
Whether that change will actually happen remains to be seen. On 14 December, the Lower House will have a General Consultation about internationalisation in education, but the Christmas recess will probably mean that the vote about the legislative change will not happen until the new year – at which point it might be overshadowed by the upcoming elections in March. What the political climate will be post-elections – or who will be education minister – is impossible to say. Recent polls suggest that the PVV (Freedom Party) might just become one of the biggest parties.
But even if the Lower House does tackle the matter before the new year, there is no guarantee the legislative change will pass. Due to Labour Party MP Jacques Monasch’s departure, the coalition, which also includes minister Bussemaker’s party, no longer has a majority in the Lower House. That is not necessarily a problem, as long as there are no ‘precarious issues’ for which the coalition has no support from the other parties, the NOS reported in early November. But a brief survey conducted by the UK shows that support for the intended legislative change is anything but certain.
Bussemaker cannot count on support from the PVV, for example. ‘We reject this kind of internationalisation of education’, PVV MP Harm Beertema says. ‘We do not see how this serves Dutch interests, apart from the assertion that these kinds of foreign adventures serve to increase the status of the universities initiating this.’
The VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy) sees it differently, says MP Pieter Duisenberg. ‘As long as it’s not at the expense of the quality and the financial position of domestic education, I think it might be a good move. But only under these conditions. And it would require a strong Supervisory Council. That’s very important, it just has to be regulated well.’
The Labour Party has no ‘formal position’ on the RUG plans, says MP Amma Asante. The same goes for CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) MP Michiel Rog. ‘He has not studied the current plans’, his spokesperson says.
The Socialist Party is against the RUG’s Yantai plans. ‘We will definitely be blocking the law’, SP MP Jasper van Dijk says. ‘I’m expecting a fierce debate. My approach is: give this up and focus on education and research in Groningen.’
D66 (Democrats ‘66) MP Paul van Meenen agrees. ‘D66 is a very internationally oriented party. But this makes me wonder what we’ll actually be doing there. Let’s just get it right here in the Netherlands, and then foreign students will automatically come to Groningen. I do not have a good feeling about this. It takes up a lot of energy that could be better invested in Dutch education and research.’
GroenLinks (GreenLeft) declined to respond to questions about the Yantai campus.
While opinions in the Lower House are divided, the ministry of education has promised the RUG that the legislative change will be implemented before March 2017. That is according to the Board of the University in a written response to questions during a University Council meeting.
‘That is highly doubtful’, Van Dijk says. ‘First of all, we have to await the debate. Anything can happen there, not just in the Lower House but also in the Upper House. Don’t forget, the coalition is also in the minority in the Upper House. And second of all, the elections are coming.’
According to a spokesperson for Bussemaker, the plans for the legislative change are currently still with the ministry. It will next be sent to the Council of State for advice, and then on to the Lower and Upper Houses.
Response from the RUG
According to RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens, the Council of State has already advised on the legislative change. ‘The minister will shortly send the memorandum of amendment with the Council of State’s advice and a detailed report to the Lower House. The Lower House will then discuss the legislative change. The legislative change contains additional rules concerning providing accredited programmes abroad’, according to Deekens.
The timing of the legislative change is also of vital importance to the RUG. That is because the university wants to decide in December whether or not to proceed with ‘Yantai’ or not. If the legislative change has not been approved by then, this would present an obstacle, as the law will also decide who will be responsible for the programmes in China. Presently, they are still the faculties’ responsibility.
But that would change under the new law: according to several reports by the RUG, they would then become the responsibility of the Board of the University. And the Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMNS) faculty council fears that that would mean that the Groningen programmes would lose control over their sister programmes in China. If the legislative change is denied, the Groningen programmes will retain control. But that would also lead to more work for the various faculties.
‘We specifically want to have a say because the Groningen and Yantai programmes are linked’, says Marc van der Maarel, faculty council chair. The parent programme in Groningen and the sister programme in Yantai will share a single identifying code in the ministry of education’s Central Register for Higher Education Study Programmes (CROHO). They will receive joint accreditation. The council members wonder what it would mean for the Groningen programmes if the ones in Yantai should get into trouble.
Van der Maarel: ‘We at the council want to know exactly how this will be monitored. We first want to know what the law actually says. We want clarity so we can assess the risks.’
‘Many people from the faculty will have to go there for work. It’s not exactly optimal to send them if everything isn’t sorted yet’, says professor Peter van Haastert. FMNS tasked him and a committee with finding out what the faculty would have to do to set up the programmes in China. Whether the FMNS faculty board feels the same way, dean Jasper Knoester will not say.