The deed is done. After a long period fraught with conflict, there was too little support among VHL staff for continuing within Wageningen UR to make it viable. Was this outcome inevitable? And what next? We asked some of those involved.
general director Van Hall Larenstein
'I am very disappointed. I had the feeling we would be able to sort it out. The management team still thinks the prospects for VHL are brighter within Wageningen UR, but the board saw it differently. However, we cannot allow ourselves to spend much time being disappointed. We did all we could but it takes two to tango.
I am not cross; I would only be cross if the work we had done had been for nothing. We now have an extremely strong management team. We stand for a united VHL. I am convinced it is possible but only if we all go all out for it. VHL has three sites and our legitimacy lies in the links between those sites. So we need to talk about how we are going to link up the programmes. I am not thinking in terms of moving programmes, there is no question of that, but I do think we could collaborate much more intensively. I am bothered by the lack of confidence in me. I have never been anything but 100 percent committed to the institution.'
Chair of the employees' council (MR)
'Aalt Dijkhuizen gave the MR a good ticking off, but I don't think we are the main reason for the vote against continuation. The MR has been critical, but then that is our duty. Our attitude is a result of the management structure chosen for the collaboration with Wageningen UR back in 2004. I think the board just didn't want to go on. I certainly think Van Hall Larenstein should continue as one applied sciences university. The last five years have not only cost a lot of money but also a lot of energy. That energy can now be poured into strengthening our own organization and improving our courses. Is there a place for Ellen Marks at VHL after the holiday? That is up to the new supervisory board.'
DLO researchers and lecturer in Animal Welfare at VHL Leeuwarden
'I understand the decision but I regret the fact that we are going to terminate the merger. My department has collaborated fruitfully with Livestock Research for years. That won't change. I voted for collaboration but most of the staff were against. There is a lot of dissatisfaction here in Leeuwarden, not just about Wageningen UR but mainly about all the internal hassles between the three campuses. Van Hall's Animal Management programme in Leeuwarden is unique and recruits nationally. If Wageningen wants to offer it too, hackles will rise in Leeuwarden. In that sense there are tensions between VHL's business interests and those of a particular campus. The VHL Vooruit plan got off to a false start in that sense. And we never recovered from that. Too much emphasis on structure, an inadequate problem analysis, insufficient support and the incidents involving Hans van Rooijen and Hans Haruds all led to a loss of confidence in our own directors. The reappointment of Ellen Marks and the tone of the letter from Aalt Dijkhuizen just before the staff poll were the last straw for a lot of VHL staff. We must make a new start fast and, just like the Dutch football team, we may need a new coach. We need some peace now, as well as an educational model with which we don't tread on each other's toes as much.'
Board chair at Den Bosch University of Applied Sciences
'Good that there is clarity now about VHL's position. The decision to be an independent applied sciences university also means there will now be a level playing field between the agricultural applied sciences schools and Wageningen UR. Up to now the Wageningen UR board has always indicated that it wanted to collaborate with all the applied sciences schools, but in practice staff of the university and of DLO regularly put out the signal: before we talk to you any more we need to touch base with VHL. That will stop now, which we applaud at HAS Den Bosch. You see that a merger costs a lot of time and energy. HAS Den Bosch has stayed independent and been outward-looking. This strategy seems successful and we are recruiting more and more students. I think that will be the way to go for VHL too: creating a strong position for yourself in the region as an independent applied sciences university.'
fifth-year student of Forest and Nature Management at the Velp campus and ex-member of the participatory council
'It is a pity the board did not support our demand for an independent board. If that had happened, there would have been a chance of a joint future. The fact that the board members were not willing to consider it at all suggests to me that they are not prepared to put much effort into solving the bottlenecks.
As far as I have gathered, the students would like to continue as one applied sciences university with Leeuwarden and Wageningen. But it is important that the separate VHL branches retain their identity. There are big differences between the three campuses, and we should respect that. The differences in identity and interests will always pose a challenge. And then we need good leadership that we can trust. If you ask me there is no place for Ellen Marks in the new management.'
IMARES researcher and lecturer in Coast and Sea Management at VHL Leeuwarden
'I think it's a great pity, as there is great added value in collaborating with Wageningen UR in the field of coast and sea management. It should be possible for that to continue, but in a different legal framework. There is a lot of dissatisfaction, but it isn't all to do with Wageningen UR. A lot of it is about internal VHL affairs. It was expressed in the staff poll in a sort of PVV vote: away with the management, without seeing the implications for the future. What next? There is a longstanding intention of merging all the agricultural applied sciences schools, but that is not feasible for the time being. A lot of issues need ironing out in the internal merger between Van Hall and Larenstein. This breakup may help with that.'
Linda van der Nat and Albert Sikkema