WAU toxicologist Dr Bram Brouwer is adviser to the Dutch government on regulations to limit the health and environmental risks of dioxins and PCBs. Installations in which waste materials are burned are major sources of these compounds. Since the government demanded a clean up of the combustion gases, the concentration of dioxins in the air has decreased, says Brouwer, but one other source has not yet been studied or acted upon: concentrations of these chemicals may have entered the food chain. Research on food samples should provide an answer, but the government has yet to put up funds for such a programme.
University personnel made redundant receive money from a special foundation which manages the university's budget for this field. Many former personnel complain about the slow procedures of this foundation and the amount of money: too much, too little or nothing at all. One of the reasons for this trouble is that the several computer systems used by the foundation are not compatible. Another is that the regulations for social security are very complex. But none of this helps the customers involved. One of them has engaged a lawyer to press for a quick pay-up, after she struggled herself with the foundation for more than six months. I cannot go to the supermarket and tell the cashier that the foundation will pay."
There are increasing opportunities for students to make money out of their thesis or papers they have written. All sorts of foundations and companies have started prize contests on subjects related to agriculture, environment, food and rural development. The awards are sometimes for amounts up to twenty thousand guilders, but more usual amounts are between five and ten thousand guilders for the best papers. Apart from improved public relations for the company, the sponsors say they want to stimulate paper-writing, although students do not usually set out to write a paper especially for a competition.
Since the evaluation by an international visiting committee of the research of the WAU sociologists last month, the participants of this programme have been arguing about the consequences of the evaluation. Programme director Dr Jan Douwe van der Ploeg stated that the small programmes of the sociologists in the field of environment, recreation and household should combine with the large-scale programme on rural development. His opponents state that their research is linked to other university disciplines in the various graduate schools. Meanwhile, the organisation of WAU's sociological research remains complex and hard to fathom for outsiders.