'Yantai' in 13 steps

The end of the Chinese dream

For a period of three years, university chairman Sibrand Poppema fought to realise his dream of establishing a RUG college campus in Yantai, China. He convinced Chinese president Xi Jinping and our own Parliament. But his fight ended in the Groningen University Council.

February 2015

The dream

It is February 2015 when university chairman Sibrand Poppema receives a phone call. The Chinese are looking for a foreign partner for the China Agricultural University (CAU) and the city of Yantai.

CAU has two campuses totalling 20,000 students in Beijing, but also has a campus in Yantai with only 900 students. Why? Just after the CAU built an entire campus in Yantai in 2003, a change in legislation prohibited universities from having a campus in a different province. The buildings have been vacant for over 10 years, but there is room for over 10,000 students. Perhaps the RUG could fill these places?

Poppema, Jasper Knoester, dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and alumnus Whang Li Zheng of CAU immediately travel to Yantai to inspect the site. ‘It was even better than I thought,’ Poppema declared later.

Six weeks after this first telephone call, the RUG signs a declaration of intent during a trade mission to China with Mark Rutte.

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25 June 2015

The University Council is caught off guard

Everything has to be done fast, because the Chinese want seminars to start as early as 2016.

In June, the University Council all of a sudden is presented with plans for them to approve. The staff is against the plans and require more time to study the file, but the students are in favour as long as Poppema promises to guarantee academic freedom and to provide sufficient replacement personnel. But university staff is dissatisfied with how they were caught off guard.

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27 oktober 2015

The official meeting

In the presence of King Willem-Alexander and Chinese president Xi Jinping, Poppema signs an agreement with representatives of the CAU and the city of Yantai. Here, it becomes clear that the Chinese adventure can be postponed for one year, because a change is legislation is required. The old law required Chinese students in Yantai to spend 25 percent of their studies in the Netherlands and the Chinese government is not in favour of this at all.

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1 november 2015

Poppema is unstoppable

Criticism on the plans is increasing. The SP are asking Parliamentary questions, the Minister of Education requires a guarantee of the academic freedom and prohibits any public funding to go to China. Staff and students continue to ask questions about work pressure and academic freedom, but university chairman Poppema seems to be unstoppable. In an interview, he says that ‘Yantai will be realised’.

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14 april 2016

Delays by the Chinese

The RUG wants to continue, but the request for the establishment of Groningen University Yantai is not handled by the Chinese Ministry of Education. This means that seminars will not be held until 2017.

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14 december 2016

Delay by the Dutch government

Now that the Chinese have finally agreed, the plan is again delayed. The Dutch government will not handle the required change in legislation until the summer of 2017. Which means that seminars will not be held until 2018.

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22 februari 2017

The University Council is granted the right of consent

At the VVD’s insistence, the law that allows for the Groningen adventure in Yantai is handled in Parliament sooner. Parliament agrees after a small change that demands that transnational education will only be possible if academic freedom is guaranteed.

Poppema makes a remarkable move to curb the growing criticism. The University Council, which up to this point only had the right to prior consultation regarding the Chinese plans, is granted the right of consent. Which means that the University Council has the final say.

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31 May 2017

Charm offensive

The Executive Board is doing everything in its power to convince the wavering University Council members, students and other stakeholders. In May, a large delegation visits Yantai to look at the campus with their own eyes. It also becomes clear that the RUG has already paid one to two million euro of its own money for the preparations.

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24 August 2017

University Council not in favour of Yantai

To the Executive Board’s dismay, the University Council turned its back on the Yantai plans in August 2017. The reasons were manifold. Despite the continued reassurance of Sibrand Poppema, worries about the academic freedom remained in place. Students fear the quality of education. The work pressure among personnel is too much. And who will guarantee the quality here in Groningen when all the good teachers move to China?

The Executive Board needs to change the plans if it wants to get its way.

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15 November 2017

The new plan

Finally there is a new plan. Yantai 2.0 will focus more on quality than quantity, there is more funding from the provincial government in China and measures to guarantee the academic freedom are put into place. There is also an exit strategy.

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23 November 2017

Oops, a party secretary

The new plan is better; that is the opinion of the University Council when discussing Yantai 2.0. However, there is a lot of unrest when it turns out that a party secretary of the Chinese Communist Party is granted a seat in the board of the University of Groningen Yantai (UGY) after a decision made by the Chinese government. Poppema emphasises that this will not affect the academic freedom on the college campus. ‘All freedom that is part of an international joint university remains in place,’ he says. But will this help?

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14 January 2018

Intended president makes disparaging remarks

An article in the Volkskrant causes a commotion. In the article, the intended president of the University of Groningen Yantai (UGY) makes disparaging remarks about the democratic process at the RUG. The fact that young people are allowed a say is unimaginable. ‘The Groningen faculty boards have agreed, which means there is support, but there is simply no end to Dutch decision-making.’

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29 January 2018

The curtain falls for ‘Yantai’

Student party Calimero issues a press release stating that the party does not believe in Yantai and will not support the plan. Together with the critical Personnel Faction and the Democratic Academy Groningen (DAG), they total sixteen out of 24 seats in the council, which means that Yantai will not be approved by the University Council.

The Executive Board has no other choice. The official statement follows one hour later. The RUG is pulling out, because there is insufficient support from the university itself. The RUG does want to look into ‘other forms of cooperation’.

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