Science - August 25, 2004

A guide to Wageningen UR

Important facts and figures about Wageningen UR for all newcomers

Why is WUR in Wageningen?

There has been agricultural education in Wageningen since 1876, when the Dutch ‘State agricultural school’ was established. Later various research institutes joined the school. The present Wageningen UR was formed from the university and institutes that developed out of the first agricultural school. That the town of Wageningen was chosen had to do with the presence of a variety of soil types in the area: clay, sand and peat. This made it easy to study all the soils upon which Dutch farming took place. Just as important, however, was the rural character of the small town of Wageningen. The gentleman farmers who made up the rural elite did not want to send their sons to learn about farming in a big city where they might learn about other things.

What does the R stand for in Wageningen UR?

Wageningen University merged officially with the research institutes of the Dutch ministry of agriculture in 1998. The research institutes became privatised and had to earn their own money by tendering for research projects rather than relying on a government subsidy. The name changed in the same year to Wageningen University and Research Centre to make it clear that Wageningen is more than just a university.

The research part consists of six institutes, of which Alterra (environmental research), Plant Research International, and Agrotechnology and Food Innovations are based almost entirely in Wageningen, along the Bornsesteeg near the sports complex. The other research institutes are spread over forty locations elsewhere in the Netherlands. The main ones are the Agricultural Economics Research Institute (LEI) in The Hague and the Animal Sciences Group with headquarters in Lelystad, along with about twenty research stations for applied plant and animal research. Fisheries research takes place on the coast at Ijmuiden to the west of Amsterdam, and in Zeeland, and falls under Animal Sciences.

Are the institutes important for international students?

In the first months of your study you are unlikely to notice them much. Later on you may have more to do with them, as they have opportunities available for thesis research projects, and who knows even for a PhD.

Who’s the boss here?

Wageningen UR has an Executive Board consisting of a chairman, a ‘rector magnificus’ (translates loosely as vice-chancellor) and a third member. The rector is chosen from the university professors. The chairman is appointed by the Supervisory Board. The rector’s portfolio consists of education and research. International students planning on becoming active in the representative bodies will encounter the rector first.

When the going gets tough, it’s the chairman of the board who has the real power, but in typical Dutch fashion most decisions are based on consensus. The chairman of the board of Wageningen UR, Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen, recently confirmed that the ultimate responsibility lies with him. When the executive board is divided he is the one who makes the final decision. Before his appointment, Dijkhuizen worked for the animal feed multinational Nutreco, and was professor of the economics of animal disease at the Farm Management Group in Wageningen. The Rector, Professor Bert Speelman, was professor of agrotechnology. The third member of the board is Kees van Ast who is in charge of finances. He came from the Dutch ministry of agriculture.

How international is Wageningen?

Of all the universities in the Netherlands, Wageningen is the most internationally oriented. This year there are four foreign students on the university student council out of a total of twelve, a situation found in no other Dutch university. There have been English-language study programmes in Wageningen since 1971. All master’s programmes are now taught in English, and about twenty percent of the students here are of non-Dutch origin. This does not mean that the whole university has gone over to English. Some information is still only available in Dutch, but things are changing slowly.

Oh yes. Why is this newspaper still mainly in Dutch? The Dutch are perfectly capable of reading English?

We do not publish the whole newspaper in English because the readers’ surveys that we conduct regularly indicate that Dutch readers often do not read the English information, and ninety percent of our readers are Dutch native speakers.

Wb has two pages in English, the Wispr. The most important news articles from the Dutch pages are translated into English, and in addition there are articles written specially for the international community at Wageningen UR. Towards the back of the newspaper you will find the announcements, a number of which are in English. Wb comes out every week during term time; it is delivered to the SSHW flats and also to all university buildings.

Korné Versluis

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