Science - October 14, 2004

Debate / Intellectual development

It is not easy for international students in Wageningen to find opportunities for intellectual development. In August an Indian PhD student complained in a letter to Wb that the university library did not even possess a decent literature collection, let alone standard works on philosophy or religion. The public library is not an alternative and most of the lectures organised by Studium Generale are in Dutch. So
bars are easier to find than books. Is general intellectual development neglected in Wageningen?

Anjal Prakash (India), PhD student:
‘An intellectual climate is cultivated through conscious choices. It takes time to learn to appreciate books, art and music. Since my arrival in Wageningen I have wondered why bars are so easily accessible, and not libraries, which close at dusk, discussion groups or reading rooms where you can acquire or share knowledge. Is the university only interested in producing agricultural scientists or does it want to contribute to broader societal development? The introductory week for new students focuses on introducing pleasure. Why was there no lecture with a critical analysis of the contemporary situation to encourage them to form a political opinion on the world order? During the introductory period at the institute where I studied in India we had a lecture from the first woman police officer who had reached the highest administrative body in India. She talked about how difficult it was to establish herself in a male dominated environment. It made me think about the other side of gender blindness and it forced me to think about how we conduct ourselves. I have no problem with people who go to the pub to relax and socialise over a glass of beer. I go myself. The problem is that it is institutionalised within the learning environment of the university, and alternative thoughts should also be given more space in a parallel structure.’

Sjoerd Dijkhuizen (Netherlands), student:
‘I’m one of those pub goers. When I’m not studying I play music. I do read a book occasionally, but I do not feel the need to discuss it. At the moment I’m doing a final project, and I go to seminars and the discussions that are held afterwards. I don’t need any extra intellectual activities. I regard my study as a nine-to-five job, and after work you want to relax. Your social development is also important. But perhaps that’s the Dutch attitude to studying, that it’s about having a good time. I can imagine that some people want more serious activities. I think that these options are more difficult for international students to find than for Dutch students.’

Shauna Ni Fhlaithearta (Ireland), student:
'WUR has far fewer opportunities for broader intellectual development than other universities. But this is also reflected in the limited number of subjects you can study here compared with other universities. The various forums for discussion are also less accessible for international students because of the language problem, but I don’t think they are totally inaccessible. In my experience, if you look around a bit and chat to the person sitting next to you, it’s easy to get into that intellectual discussion you’ve been longing for.’

Fran de la Concepción (Spain), student:
‘Wageningen is serious enough. I feel good in this quiet town. I don’t like reading and I don’t like philosophers either. That’s why I’m studying Food Technology. I play guitar and I like going out. That’s what life’s all about.’

Jos Käfer (Netherlands), student and active letter writer to Wb:
‘The person who wrote the letter is right. There is hardly ever an interesting lecture in Wageningen which is not about agriculture. And if you are after music, theatre and other arts you nearly always have to go to Utrecht or Amsterdam. I have sympathy with those who have no public transport (OV) card or their own car, like most foreign students. But the number of students or young people at a Studium Generale lecture (both in Wageningen and Utrecht) or at a concert is always small, despite the fact that students can go to a world-class concert at Vredenburg in Utrecht or the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for seven euros. Perhaps the scarcity is a typically Dutch phenomenon, but the small size of Wageningen makes it even more striking. I’m doing a graduation project in Utrecht at the moment and it makes me realise how little there is of an academic atmosphere in Wageningen. In Utrecht I can go to at least two lectures or symposia a week which are of interest to me as a biologist; in Wageningen I’m lucky if there are two a year. But it’s not only the small size of Wageningen that is responsible; the small numbers here are also concentrated in a few subject areas. Apparently the small size of Wageningen reinforces the narrow mentality of the people here. As they say in Dutch: the farmer doesn’t eat what he doesn’t know.’

Jacco Rodenburg (Netherlands), coordinator of Otherwise:
‘I can understand the criticism. There are opportunities for intellectual development in Wageningen, but they are not visible enough. Many of the more intellectual groups in Wageningen are inward- rather than outward looking. Studium Generale tries its best, but doesn’t always succeed. At Otherwise we try to encourage debate on the issue of international development cooperation. We can’t complain about lack of interest, certainly since we have gone over to English as the main language. The ratio between Dutch and international students is fifty-fifty for our activities. There are plenty of things you can do in Wageningen on your own, but perhaps international students are not so used to taking initiative themselves. In the introductory week it is true that the focus is on enjoyment. But you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of that: it’s also important to get to know other people, but certainly international students are perhaps also interested in other subjects. Perhaps what we need in Wageningen is to create an atmosphere within which people are keen to organise something. And perhaps it’s an idea to make it possible to visit the public library with a student ID card.’

Yvonne de Hilster