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OPINION: Maagdenhuis occupation: A national assault on education requires a national defence

MAASTRICHT. The true source of the dispute between students and the university board in Amsterdam, lies in national education policy and efficiency measures, says Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences-student David Darler, on behalf of the New University Maastricht, in this opinion article.

February was an eventful month for the New University, the organisation at the heart of the student protests in Amsterdam. The occupation of the Bungehuis was ended last week by police intervention with several arrests and the threat of legal action. Such wielding of the stick is the reserve of the powerful when the carrot fails to seduce their fellow ‘negotiators’. For now, the Maagdenhuis remains occupied, and the seeds of a national solidarity movement are being sown in universities across the Netherlands, including in Maastricht.

The main demands of the New University are: democratic governance and decentralisation of decision-making, input-based financing, dignified employment contracts and the cancellation of planned structural reforms. These are internal issues, but the true source of the dispute lies in national education policy and efficiency measures (rendementsdenken). Faculties must justify their existence in terms of profit or face restructuring. This often involves reducing teaching and research positions, a narrower curriculum and efficiency-based targets. These ‘solutions’ impair student development and reduce higher education to the logic of a factory system, its value measured according to profit and loss.

These issues concern students across the Netherlands because the principles of rendementsdenken drive national policy. We recognise that the executive board in Maastricht does not uncritically accept national initiatives. Universities have some scope to comply or resist, but the process pushes every institution in the same direction. The rate of change may vary but the ultimate destination is the same.

To demonstrate what the future might look like, academics from Leiden and Amsterdam recently published an article on Opendemocracy.net (Why we occupy: Dutch universities at the crossroads). They draw parallels between the process of higher education reform in the UK and the policies of the Dutch government. The Netherlands, they claim, is ten years behind the UK but eager to catch up. We face a choice: if students and staff do not make themselves heard now, the choice between privatization and democracy will be made on our behalf.

It is difficult for individual students to perceive these developments without a structural and historical viewpoint. It is not obvious that formalities such as binding study advice, changes in grading criteria or higher fees are part of the creeping marketization of education in the Netherlands. Many current and future students will be detrimentally affected by this process, but will lack the perspective to understand their predicament. This is why a clear public understanding and debate of these issues is crucial.

In this vein, we ask that students from all faculties support the New University in their defence of the quality of education in the Netherlands.

 

David Darler, on behalf of the New University Maastricht

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