Op-ed: Yantai consent is not a quickie

In February, just before the parliamentary debate on the internationalization of higher education, the Board of the University granted the University Council and Faculty Councils the right of consent to the plan to establish a UG branch campus in Yantai. That decision has been positively received by the councils involved. However, a right to consent means that those councils share the responsibility for the decision and its consequences. Great care should, therefore, be taken.

The Board of the University has scheduled, with great haste, the consent procedure for the upcoming council meetings. The Board’s plan is that the Faculty Councils of Science and Engineering (FSE) and Spatial Sciences (FSS) should have exercised their rights to consent to the plans of their Faculty Boards before the summer holidays. After that, the University Council would have to give its approval for UGY in August. The advantage is clear: decision making will be fast – and the assessment will be performed by council members who know the dossier. However, there is the risk of rushing an important decision.

To properly assess the UGY plans, information is needed – lots of information, including detailed time planning, good risk analyses, cost/benefit analyses and a thorough understanding of how (educational) responsibilities are divided between Yantai and Groningen. A start of such analyses is described in the UGY business case, published in September 2016. However, several councils have stated their dissatisfaction with regards to the depth and breadth of this business case. Consequently, councils have repeatedly requested more elaborate plans.

To answer these queries, the various boards have provided piecemeal additional information – most often orally. This makes it difficult for the councils to comprehensively assess the UGY project. For other staff members and students, it is even more difficult to grasp the details of the project – especially in faculties that are not involved in the first wave of educational programs scheduled to start at UGY.

On various occasions, the councils have expressed concern about the size, speed and predicted benefits of the enterprise. A similar statement of concern from the Personnel Faction and List Calimero, which was almost released to the public in February, prompted the Board to grant the councils the right to consent.

The proposed timeframe for the consent procedure implies that the Board of the University and the Faculty Boards must provide their councils with a lot of information in a very short period. Council members must then rapidly process the information and come to a judgment. At this moment, essential information from the Dutch and Chinese authorities is not available.

There will only be a draft of the AMvB (Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur; General Order in Council, an interpretation of the law) at the end of May, which will describe the legal framework for governance at UGY. This draft can be changed after consultation and discussion in the House of Representatives and in the Council of State.

It is difficult to consent to a plan when the legal boundaries to the plan are not yet formalized. Additionally, the Chinese government has not yet confirmed whether the proposal by UG for programs at UGY will be granted in its entirety. Furthermore, questions about academic freedom and ethical frameworks, such as animal testing, at UGY should be addressed.

A better elaborated business case, clarity about governance and clear support for the UGY project among the university community are, in our view, prerequisites for a well-considered decision whether or not to consent to a UG branch campus in Yantai. It’s going to be a busy summer.

Dirk-Jan Scheffers, Olaf Scholten, Casper Albers, Carlien Vermue, Marcel Ruiters, John Hoeks, Bart Beijer, Dinie Bouwman, Gert Jan Bokdam, Nienke de Deugd, Rieza Aprianto – (candidate)members of the Personnel Faction in the University Council


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