I raise my hand awkwardly. ‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘But I don’t know anyone from this group in Wageningen.’ I go a bit red in the face. The activist who had asked me to look for a talented immigrant gives me a hard look. ‘Then you need to look harder,’ he says. His irritation is quite audible.
For months now I have been looking for a talented immigrant academic, to no avail. Of course Wageningen is international. Our university has 99 different nationalities and at least 1000 foreigners will be embarking on their Master’s degrees here this year. This is the result of hard work and our directors are proud of it. Rightly so, because greater diversity increases the chances of refreshing new insights, as research has shown.
The only thing is, all our foreigners are just that – foreigners. There is hardly anyone here from the main immigrant populations – a Dutch person of Moroccan or Turkish origin for instance. I have consulted the provisional statistics of the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) on this point. In 2014-2015, Wageningen municipality had eight Turkish Dutch people and eight Moroccan Dutch people on academic programmes. That puts us at the bottom of the league of all the Dutch municipalities with a university.
A missed opportunity. We are offering our students an environment in which a significant section of the Dutch population is absent. How can our students develop an understanding of how the rest of the Netherlands works?
I think we need to start doing our utmost to attract this group of Dutch people to Wageningen. After all, they have a different angle on life in the Netherlands. It is precisely this group that can bring us extra diversity and with it, new academic insights. Who knows, that may take us even higher up the international rankings.
Stijn van Gils (29) is doing doctoral research on ecosystem services in agriculture. Every month he describes his struggles with the scientific system.