Nieuws - 27 januari 2011

Thirty-six professors from Wageningen took part in the protest

Around 1050 professors and 15,000 students demonstrated against higher education cuts in The Hague on 21 January. 'Wageningen' was well represented.

The professors gathered in an extraordinary academic session, which was chaired by the Wageningen rector Martin Kropff. The main speaker was Cees Veerman. The former Minister for agriculture, now a professor with endowed chairs in Wageningen and Tilburg, advocated quality improvement and greater diversity in education, in line with the vision set out last year by a committee he headed. 'But the government also needs to show support and respect. No unmotivated rupture of teaching routes or far-reaching financial penalties.' Investing in knowledge and teaching means investing in the future, was also the message of the head of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Jos Engelen, and the head of the Association of Universities, Sijbold Noorda.
Personal insult
One third of all Dutch professors, a total of 1050 professors, attended the session. There were thirty-six professors from Wageningen, including Experimental Zoology professor Johan van Leeuwen. He took part to express his concern and anger, he said. 'There is a danger that this policy will cause enormous damage to higher education. That could be partly irreversible', said Van Leeuwen.
Huub Rijnaarts, professor of the Environment and Water Technology, fears that funding for the technological top institutes will be endangered as the natural gas revenues will no longer be used for innovation. He also considers it almost a personal insult when students are portrayed as lazy, antisocial types. Rijnaarts: 'It is often precisely the active students, who spend a year on a society committee for example, who will be particularly hard-hit by the measures.'
Following the professors' protest, more than 15,000 students gathered in the Malieveld park. Buses carrying 520 students left Wageningen in the morning while others went by train. Various politicians, including Job Cohen and Emiel Roemer, addressed the demonstrators and the Wageningen band De Langstudeerders performed their protest song ‘Dear Mr Rutte'. After the demonstration had finished, a small group of three hundred students clashed with riot police in the city centre.
'Fantastic camaraderie among the professors'
'This is the most extraordinary meeting I have experienced in my entire career', says Martin Kropff, looking back at the professors' demonstration on 21 January.'There was fantastic camaraderie among the more than one thousand professors as we walked in a procession past the Parliamentary buildings of the Binnenhof. When we entered the auditorium where the speeches were being given, we received an applause lasting twenty minutes from the people who were already there. We have made an unambiguous statement: we are concerned for the future of our country.'
As chairman of the Council of University Rectors, Kropff was the spokesman for the protesting professors. He was on BNR Radio Friday morning at six thirty, in the evening he appeared in RTL News and a report by the VARA broadcasting company, and the next morning he was in the Tros News Show. These are important platforms for getting across the professors' arguments, he thinks. 'No one realizes that this cabinet is scrapping the FES grant scheme, which is worth 500 million euros. It is used to finance knowledge projects embodying a unique form of collaboration between universities and the private sector. It takes some time to build that up but dismantling is a lot quicker.' Astrid Smit