‘It is my opinion that academic freedom should never be under dispute, even at a Dutch university abroad’, the minister of Education, Culture, and Science (OCW) wrote in a letter to the Lower House.
In late November, it was announced that the Chinese government was making it mandatory for every foreign university in China to appoint a party representative. This meant that the board of the University of Groningen Yantai (UGY) would also have a representative.
The University Council and national politicians were alarmed by this news, especially because RUG president Sibrand Poppema had earlier guaranteed that the Chinese government would not be involved in UGY. Minister Van Engelshoven is also worried by the news. ‘My concerns about this have been communicated to the RUG in a discussion.’
‘Freedoms will remain’
The university and the minister are in regular contact about the Yantai plans, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘Academic freedom is definitely guaranteed. The only authorities that have any say in the programmes are we, the NVAO, and the minister’, Bakker emphasises. ‘That is how we always discussed it.’
Instead of appointing a separate party secretary, the Board of Directors wants the president of the board to fulfil the function of party secretary. This president would have no say in education and research: this authority lies with the Dutch vice chancellor. Poppema is convinced that academic freedom would not be at issue under a party secretary: ‘All freedoms will remain the same’, he said during a University Council meeting in November.
Once the necessary legislation is in place – probably by this spring – the RUG can present its Yantai proposal to the minister. She will then decide whether or not UGY is a go. ‘Academic freedom is greatly important to me, which means I will not treat it lightly when making my decision’, she writes in her letter.
Before it goes to the minister, the University Council will first have to vote on the proposal. When this will take place is not yet known.