Balkenende harked back to the Dutch achievements in the Golden Age, when Dutch traders and privateers ventured fearlessly over the seven seas in search of fame and riches, and when pioneering windmill builders drained lakes and the whole world looked in wonder to the Seven United Provinces. It wasn’t just trade that blossomed, but also science, said the prime minister, citing famous Dutchmen such as Hugo Grotius who laid the foundations for international law, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek the inventor of the microscope and the mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens.
Returning to this century, the Netherlands is doing well, the prime minister assured the public. ‘But in today’s globalised world, good is not enough. You have to aim for the top.’ Dutch universities and companies need to make more effort according to Balkenende. Dutch companies are far less innovative than their German competitors. Two out of three Dutch students cannot be bothered to try and get high marks. And the quality of Dutch universities is cause for concern, said Balkenende citing a headline in de Volkskrant national newspaper last week: ‘Universities are overrated’.
Despite his criticisms, Balkenende had praise for Wageningen UR. In 2004 during a dinner with the Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, the latter talked in glowing terms about Wageningen to his Dutch counterpart without even being asked. ‘I can tell you: there was a proud Dutch prime minister at that dinner table.’ According to Balkenende, Wageningen Food Valley is one of the Dutch giants along with Brainport Eindhoven and companies such as TomTom and ASML.
Balkenende had read in the strategic plan that Wageningen UR intends to become the leading European knowledge institution, a goal that would make the Dutch forefathers proud. ‘That’s what we need! And the fact that students from 107 countries have chosen this university for their education proves that you’re on the right track.’