Organisation - June 24, 2010

VHL merger: blessing or curse?

The executive board of Wageningen UR wants to formalize the merger between the Van Hall institute in Leeuwarden and the Larenstein institute in Gelderland by the autumn. The employees’ councils of both institutes have come up with a string of conditions. What do staff themselves think? Resource asked around.


Herma Nieuwenhuis, lecturer in Agricultural Business Management at VHL Leeuwarden (Van Hall):
'For a long time, I wasn't sure what I thought about a merger. Until I saw Aalt Dijkhuizen, who talked to the staff here recently. The way he behaved got on my nerves. I thought,  I don't want someone in charge here who is so manipulative. I'm not against a merger, as long as certain conditions are met. For example, I don't want things to get more expensive for us in Leeuwarden, and we should also hold on to our support staff like the timetabler and the people who record the grades. It is important to work with Wageningen though. Friesland is a livestock area and Wageningen is a big name internationally in that field. Some of our lecturers are already working a lot with Wageningen. So it is good for VHL to be linked with Wageningen, but our school should definitely stay in this region. Many people here are afraid that VHl wil disappear from Leeuwarden if the Animal Management degree programme is moved to a more central location such as Velp or Wageningen. If that happens, student numbers will drop. There is a real fear of that.'

Theo de Wit, teacher of Coastal Zone Management at CHL Leeuwarden (Van Hall):
'The way things are going at the moment, you shouldn't merge. There's already disagreement at the top: the directors are rowing. So I say: not just yet. Two locations are fine, but you have to have an education director at each location. That is not the case at the moment, which costs a lot of money and causes a lot of irritation. If you need someone here, he's in Velp - or the other way round. Aalt Dijkhuizen's performance here did not go down well. He came across like a street brawler who wanted to set a group of academics straight on the way things worked. It came across as quite threatening. Collaboration is a good thing. For example, since we have been part of Wageningen UR, we can access all scientific literature. Students on our Bachelor's in Coastal Zone Management can transfer to the university after two years. That should be extended to Animal Management and Agriculture. That was promised when the merger at management level happened, but it hasn't been carried through. If Dijkhuizen had talked about that during the meeting, he would have won some credit.
Jacques Molmans, Coordinator of the Major in Food Innovation Management at VHL Wageningen (Larenstein):
'I was utterly astonished: after years of VHL, there is still no official merger. I am all for it: I can only see advantages. I am very happy with our place in the Life Sciences building. The facilities are great. And Food Technology belongs in the 'city of life sciences' and at the heart of 'Food Valley'. Wageningen UR is becoming more and more prominent worldwide. And I am happy that as VHL Wageningen, we can be part of that. Cooperation with the university hasn't got off the ground on all fronts, but there is sure to be a policy for tackling that once we are officially one organization.'
Eddy Hesselink, coordinator of the major in Rural Innovation at VHL Wageningen (Larenstein):
'I am for the merger, but without Leeuwarden. Let Larenstein merge into Wageningen UR. That would take guts at management level, but it does happen these days that mergers are reversed. Leeuwarden works a lot with the applied sciences institutions in the north, more intensively than it does with Larenstein and with Wageningen UR. The administrative merge with Leeuwarden has proven impractical and expensive, due to the physical distance, and that is why it has brought few benefits. Another big disadvantage of a merger is that Leeuwarden has several of the same programmes as Larenstein in Wageningen, and one of the two locations will have to stop running those programmes. That will mean yet another reorganization, which will create a lot of disturbance and could be harmful for some subject areas.'
Dries Hielkema, Garden and Landscape Design at VHL Velp (Larenstein):
'A merger with Leeuwarden is pointless, if you ask me; the distance between Velp and Leeuwarden is too great. We don't have anything in common, actually. Officially we have one education office, but in actual fact they are three offices with one director who travels up and down. A waste of time.
'I don't see any use in having one executive board for both VHL and Wageningen UR, as we do now. We can see that Dijkhuizen has to negotiate with Dijkhuizen about the costs of the services we buy from Wageningen UR. And those negotiations just so happen to work out to our disadvantage, every time.'
Tilly Versteegh, receptionist at VHL Velp (Larenstein):
'I am for, with provisos, because there's no escaping it anyway. Cooperation with Wageningen UR is good for our reputation. But it's important to set firm conditions, and the estate must definitely stay. I am very much afraid that we will lose our campus in the long run. Wageningen UR is gradually putting up the costs, until suddenly we will be too expensive. That's what I think, because Wageningen UR services are extremely expensive and you have to hire someone external for all sorts of things. What happened to the sense of building something together? I would rather see VHL Wageningen moving to Velp, so that we have one strong location.
Nobody listens to us much. We wanted two telephone switchboards at the entrance, for example, but we don't stand a chance. And when we have to start using the EBS, it will only get worse. Aalt Dijkhuizen's visit made me more negative. He really gave the impression: you have no say in this. And we are such a nice hogeschool, with our own identity.
Harry van Rosmalen, lecturer in Land and Water Management at VHL Velp (Larenstein):
I have my doubts. In terms of content we have little to gain from a merger. I work with a lot of applied sciences institutes, but cooperation with Van Hall doesn't really get off the ground. With a view to scale, I can imagine why you would consider a merger, but why do we go for Leeuwarden and not the HAN University of Applied Sciences here  in Arnhem, just across the highway? What is more, we mainly get services from Wageningen, and that relationship doesn't come into this. The merger is now being used to set our relationship with Wageningen UR straight. For example, The ICT facilities are good, I think, but there are drawbacks too. On the open day we only needed a couple of computers, and out own ICT department used to just handle that on the side. Now a chap has to come from Wageningen, at a rate of 71 euros per hour. I think that as an applied sciences institute, we should be paying less. After all, we make less use of specialist software than researchers do. We get less funding too. We cannot invest in our estate or in our human resources at the moment. And they are both important for our education.'

Re:act