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Opening of the academic year: protest voices in the media

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker expressed his support in the media for 'The Real Opening,' the protest against government cuts. 'The plans are a disaster for higher education.' Professor Remco Breuker, one of the organisers of this protest on 2 September, called in NRC Handelsblad for a stop to the suspicion about the humanities.

The relationship between the government and the universities has hit an all-time low with the wrangling over money, said Carel Stolker in an interview in Financieele Dagblad newspaper on the day of the opening of the academic year. ‘I have never experienced so much anger in higher education. As dean and as rector I have been right in the middle of the real crisis years and never had to make cuts. And now we are at the height of the economy and suddenly have to make cuts of 13m euros. No one can explain this to me.

‘The entire problem has now been dumped on us as boards of the broad universities. We have to hand over 3m in 2022 to the universities of technology and shift an estimated 8m from the social sciences and humanities to the Faculty of Science. Altogether that makes 13m; this will tear apart the communities within the broad universities. I think it’s awful.’

Read the full interview in Financieele Dagblad (€) [in Dutch]

Universities have different priorities from the Cabinet, writes NRC Handelsblad newspaper, having spoken to a number of rector magnifici. Universities want more internationalisation and can appreciate the importance of the arts and social sciences, whereas these are not the Cabinet’s priorities. According to Carel Stolker, the universities are ‘enormous tankers’ in battle with ‘staccato politics.’ ‘We need stability. That clashes with the pile of reports, strategic agendas and scientific papers from the government. First, we have to do all we can to achieve efficiency, then it’s open access and then science and technology.’ The relationship has never been so bad between the government and the universities: ‘Our staff are exhausted, frustrated or totally indifferent to what’s going on in The Hague.’

Read the full article in NRC Handelsblad (€) [in Dutch]

‘I would never have believed that I would use North Korea as a serious example to help explain the situation in the Netherlands. But lately I have been doing nothing but that,’ says Remco Breuker, Professor of Korean Studies, in NRC Handelsblad. Breuker is one of the organisers behind the WOinActie protest movement and The Real Opening, the protest meeting in Leiden on 2 September. North Korea’s transition to a totalitarian state was made considerably easier once the critical voices of sociologists and historians could no longer be heard.

Breuker concludes that there is a Cabinet campaign against the humanities, which brings closer the spectre of events in countries such as Hungary, Brazil or North Korea. ‘The Real Opening is in part a protest against the cuts and in part a call to make previously promised investments. But is is also an increasingly mass expression of fundamental unity about what scholarship should be in our society. Free scholarship – teaching and research – in the arts, science, social sciences and medicine is essential for an enduring, prosperous democracy.’

Read the full opinion piece by Remco Breuker (€) [in Dutch]

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