1. Quality, not quantity
In the proposal dating back to June 2017, countering shrinkage is one of the main arguments for University of Groningen Yantai (UGY). Dutch people are ageing, which will eventually lead to fewer new students, and a loss of income for the RUG. A branch in China would change this trend, the proposal argued.
In the new proposal, this argument can no longer be found. ‘[We’ve noticed] that this argument can lead to the impression that the RUG is only concerned with quantity, when the opposite is true: the project’s most important objective is to improve the quality of education’, the Board of Directors writes.
In Yantai 2.0, improving educational quality is the explicit main goal in the project. ‘Any and all other reasons this chapter addresses are secondary to this main goal.’ Also new is a chapter that explains how UGY would improve education
In the old plan, the finances looked something like this: UGY will be financially independent from the RUG, there is no financial risk to Groningen, and the RUG promises to not use any public resources for Yantai.
A majority of the University Council members felt this argument was too vague to convince them to vote in favour of the project. In the new proposal, the budget has been explained much more specifically.
There are extra funds available for student and staff travel between UGY and the RUG. And the budget has grown: the provincial government in China has pledged extra money.
3. The F word
Academic freedom. Being able to say what you want, doing research, and reaching without government interference. At Dutch universities, all of this is a given, but not so in China. Enough reason for Calimero, DAG, and the Personnel faction to question how wise it was to establish a RUG campus in the country.
The June proposal only briefly mentioned which regulatory guarantees are in place to protect academic freedom at UGY. The new proposal addresses this issue more concretely.
There is a long list of things the RUG will do itself. A small selection: there will be a direct internet connection between Europe and Yantai, which would be more secure than a Virtual Private Network (VPN); there will be system in place to guarantee scientific integrity, modelled on the RUG’s own system; and a quality care system will monitor how academic freedom works in reality. The board also has a procedure in place in case the academic freedom is violated.
The Board of Directors would love to see UGY as a research university with approximately ten thousand students. Wonderful ambitions, but they come with a risk. What if the whole thing fails?
To this end, the new proposal is a little more modest. The plan now consists of two phases. In the first phase, the RUG will create fourteen programmes for approximately four thousand students. Should the campus be a success, it’s time for phase two: thirty programmes for ten thousand students.
Another new thing in Yantai 2.0: an exit strategy. Here, the board describes what should happen if the RUG decides to pull out of China after all, and what the consequences would be.
That is the main question. Persons in the University Council who had their doubts have at the very least been provided with more information on things they felt were poorly substantiated. Whether they will consent to this plan, is something they’ll decide sometime in the next few weeks.
The University Council will discuss the new proposal on 23 November. The vote will probably take place in December, or even as late as January.