News - May 7, 2014

Blog: Boundless growth

Overpopulation is ever more scary when it’s in your own backyard. Many at WUR call for an effective contraceptive method to regulate the institution’s future size. Population control, however, bears the risk of undetermined changes to the university ecosystem.

I am delighted by this biblical sequence: the Word became Flesh (and scarcity of money, rooms and PCs, claustrophobic sport facilities, lousy housing...).

If the current students selection process and acceptance policy are maintained, Wageningen University student population will grow by 50 percent in the next ten years. Governmental funds in the same period will only grow by twenty percent, or about two percent per year. With these premises, the fear of the university exploding like a stranded whale rises, and concerns for the sake of education, staff and students altogether are not without reason. Even if they build a satellite campus, the small teacher to student ration will be lost, and so will the close-knit community. One remedy to moderate growth is to apply stricter selection criteria for admitting students.

What should be the criteria of this un-natural selection? Should academic achievements be a benchmark? All the nerds in, the rest can go home. Sounds great! Or shall we in stead look for idealism and commitment, to guarantee that the academic community will remain effervescent? Then some big fish should first agree on what the WUR ‘ideals and commitments’ are. That would be a laughter and a slaughter at the same time. How about minorities? Shall we reserve spots for students who, rather than in school, outshine in sports? If not, Thymos will eventually only run World of Warcraft tournaments. Perhaps quota on the amount of Dutch students should be introduced, someone timidly suggests... In the long term, I believe that any selection will affect the beautiful variety we now have.

It would be bitter irony if Wageningen UR Itself, while researching global solutions for sustainable development, would fall victim of boundless growth. How this can be avoided, without falling prey to Malthusian dreams and Malthusian nightmares, is the question.