Dutch prime minister, Wim Kok, opened the academic year at Wageningen Agricultural University on September 3. Kok, one of the keynote speakers at the FAO Summit on food security to be held in Rome this November, asked the university to establish more scientific cooperation and to extend the production and transfer of knowledge to the underdeveloped regions of the world. There are eight hundred million people in the world suffering from hunger, said the prime minister, and scientists estimate that the world population will grow by three billion in the coming thirty-five years. In order to tackle the problem of hunger in the world it is not only necessary to produce more food, but the major questions of a more balanced distribution of the food among the inhabitants of the earth and the need for sustainable rural development must be answered, said the prime minister.
The transfer of knowledge cannot only take place in one direction stressed Kok. International research organisations increasingly take the ecological resources of regions as a starting point. The university should therefore link its research programmes to international and national research stations all over the world. As a consequence, scientific disciplines such as chemistry, physics, biology as well as social and legal aspects of agriculture should be linked within the university. Integration on several levels is needed," stated the prime minister.
The freshmen at the university will certainly feel challenged by the prime minister's speech, but they face more short-term practical challenges as well. Some are struggling with the timetabling of their courses, but most of them started their lectures this week with a general introduction to computer technologies and statistics. They feel the freedom of leaving the parental nest, but they have also left their friends, mother's cooking, their motor bike or tennis club behind. Living on a corridor is helpful, because the older students can tell them how the kitchen is run and how to select the right courses.
A useful educational guide for the newcomers was presented this week by the committee of first-year students, the Proppengroep. They carried out a survey among final-year students on the quality of the books, lecturers and exams. The students were fairly critical: nearly half of the lectures consist of books being read out loud. Moreover, it is possible to pass some of the exams by studying old papers, without reading the book at all. Later this year, the lecturers will be asked to give their response to these findings.
The students want a strong say in the educational policy of the university, but their status will be changed from member of the university parliament to that of an adviser. The Dutch parliament is about to approve a new law that will give sole responsibility to the Executive Board of the university. Until now, proposals put forward by the Board have had to be approved by the University Council, but next year the Board will be able to make its own decisions after consulting the Council. The students are firmly opposed to their weakened position and feel like puppets. One of the Wageningen students handed prime minister Kok a puppet after he had explained his opposition to the new law during the opening ceremony for the academic year.