Universities: multinationals or ivory towers?
Are universities becoming commercial multinationals, out to get as much tuition fee money as possible, or will they remain idealistic institutions whose main objective is to pass on knowledge? Twenty five students from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands came together in Wageningen last weekend to discuss how higher education is developing. Universities are the least commercial in Germany, but the students there are not satisfied
Karlijne Jukes, studying food technology, and Margje Muusse, studying environmental hygiene, have had to adjust their ideas about the Agricultural University. They thought that WAU came close to the ideal of the Free Global University, where the transfer of knowledge receives higher priority than the fees brought in by students and commercially-oriented research
After discussions with fellow students from the International Association of Agricultural Students (IAAS) Jukes and Muusse came to the conclusion that their impression of WAU is inaccurate. Student numbers are an important factor determining the position of departments, and research results are sometimes kept confidential for commercial reasons. These characteristics are more in keeping with an Industrial Knowledge Multinational where the main priority is to attract as many fee-paying students as possible
Neither the Free Global University nor the Industrial Knowledge Multinational actually exist. They are ideal types, and in reality all universities display characteristics of both. The ideal types are helpful for describing developments in higher education, according to the IAAS members. After a lecture from education specialist Professor Wout van den Bor the students talked about the direction in which higher education in their countries was moving
Universities in Germany still bear most similarities to the global university model. Students do not have to pay tuition fees, but poverty reigns according to the German IAAS members. The universities have so little money to spend on education that students went on strike last year. Our libraries are of a low standard, states Petra Boddes from Kiel. Stefan Abel, a student from Gottingen continues: In October last year the money for buying books had run out: a pretty strange situation. Higher education in Germany seems to be moving in the direction of the knowledge multinational. At the moment the introduction of tuition fees is under discussion; scientists are complaining more and more about the lack of funds available for fundamental research, which is regarded as uncommercial
Belgian universities are more like industrial multinationals than Global Universities according to Dieter Lambrechts and Frank Holsteyns from Leuven (Louvain). A number of departments, including the chemistry department, receive financial support from industry. Lambrechts: These departments have well-equipped laboratories and the students from these departments often carry out research in commercial companies. Research in Belgium is very result oriented. There's also lots of competition between research groups, and it's important to publish as much as possible.
The IAAS students also discussed subjects which do not fit into the ideal types so easily, including the influence students can have on education. Students in Belgium seem to have more influence than their German counterparts. Lambrechts: Last year students were asked to fill in questionnaires about courses and they way in which they were taught. One professor came out with a bad evaluation and resigned as a result.
Abel could not imagine such a thing happening in Germany. One of the reasons is that professors are appointed for life and their achievements are hardly ever judged. The moment they are appointed they can put their feet up. Of course students can approach a lecturer and complain about the standard of teaching. But a professor can always answer with: but I've got the job.
Biotechnology course on Internet
Next year will see the start of an experiment in which a course in Biotechnology will be given over the Internet. Course director Rommert van den Bos hopes that within a couple of years a substantial amount of the first year course will provided through distance learning. This means that students will not have to come to the Netherlands for the first year of their study. They will be able to follow the course at home on the computer. They will have to come to Wageningen in the second year for practicals, completing their theses and for outplacements with biotechnology companies. Van den Bos wants to start next year by offering a number of courses on computer in order to be able to assess which forms of computer-aided learning are most popular. Students from universities in Thailand and Poland will try out a number of courses
At present a number of lectures from the biotechnology course are being digitally recorded using the Real-audio programme. This enables students to hear the voice of the lecturer, and the overhead sheets used during the lecture appear on the computer screen. We also want to include interactive forms of teaching in the new programme, whereby students can have contact with other students and with lecturers.
Problems that still need to be solved include access to the courses and copyright of the course material. As far as access is concerned there are two possibilities. We can make the course material accessible to all and charge a fee for taking the exam, or we can make students pay for a password which will give them access to the modules. Van den Bos hopes that the University Executive Board will grant permission for the programme to be extended from 17 months to two years. The programme is very tight at the moment. He intends to raise funds for the extension from the companies where students gain work experience
TB checks recommended, but not compulsory
The half yearly tuberculosis checks recommended by the municipal health service are not compulsory for international students. ISP chairman Wilbert Sadomba had complained about the screening procedures. He had understood that the test was compulsory for students from third world countries and as such he found it discriminatory. According to Ingrid de Weijer of the municipal health centre, which carries out the tests this is not the case. Everyone who has spent longer than two years in an area where TB occurs is examined upon arrival in this country. Dutch students who have been abroad for shorter periods are given a Mantoux test. This test can only be used for people who have not been vaccinated against tuberculosis. Many people who come from areas where TB is prevalent have been vaccinated
Students from countries where TB is endemic have to undergo an examination upon arrival in the Netherlands. After that the municipal health service requests students to return for check ups every six months. These check ups however are voluntary, but the health service recommends them. We are not the only ones. The World Health Organisation advises six-monthly checks for a period of two years. This is not only for the health of the person concerned but also for those with whom the person comes into contact. In addition, TB does not always show up at the first screening, says Ingrid de Weijer who works at the municipal health service in Ede, where WAU students are screened
According to De Weijer the radiation used to make an X-ray is equivalent to the amount that a passenger is subjected to on a flight from Amsterdam to New York. Last year the health service in Ede recorded fifty cases of TB. None of these were WAU students. In previous years there have been cases of TB among students here