‘Look at the cultural value of research and not just at the economic value’

‘Look at the cultural value of research and not just at the economic value’

Philosopher René Gabriëls about Limburg administrators’ pressing letters

11-04-2024 · Opinion article

For those who feel very strongly about academic values and Bildung, cannot solely approach scientific research and education in terms of economic value. Yet, philosopher René Gabriëls feels that UM administrators are doing just that.

Together with administrators from other education institutes, municipalities and businesses, as well as the Province of Limburg, President Rianne Letschert signed two pressing letters in which she points out to education minister Dijkgraaf and the members of Parliament the disastrous consequences of limiting the number of foreign students on the Limburg economy. With the familiar Calimero rhetoric, which emphasises that Limburg will be “disproportionately disadvantaged” as a result of the measures from The Hague, the administrators say with a certain poise that due to the special circumstances of the Euregio Maas-Rijn, “a choice that bachelor’s study programmes should be only in Dutch, would lead to extra-large losses in Limburg”. But by putting it like that, the Limburg administrators do not do any justice to what minister Dijkgraaf and the members of Parliament have said about Englishisation, because they do not argue that Dutch should be the official language in all bachelor’s study programmes. The Panteia survey, commissioned by UM, into the so-called ‘economic footprint’ of UM, also bases itself on just one scenario: only bachelor’s programmes in Dutch. Why did UM administrators not ask Panteia to assess the ‘economic footprint’ of multiple scenarios? That way, they would be meeting an important academic value: establishing the truth. Should they actually be interested in the truth about the economic consequences of a different language policy, a different scenario should be considered, in which, for example, 60 per cent of the bachelor’s and master’s programmes are in Dutch.

Right thing to do

Another academic value is the use of sources. Without mentioning sources, the Limburg administrators state that 30 to 40 per cent of the foreign students remain in the region. Suppose these figures are correct, would it not be the right thing to do to inform minister Dijkgraaf and the members of Parliament how long they stay in the region and whether there are differences between disciplines? Good decisions are only possible when all relevant information is available. Further information about the dangers for the quality of education, the displacement of Dutch students, and the housing problem, is not provided. The Limburg administrators claim ex cathedra that the problems faced by Randstad in this respect, are absent in this land of ‘bronze green oak trees’: “There is not a decrease in the quality of education, Dutch students are not being displaced, and Limburg does not have accommodation shortages.” This was not elaborated on either. Can the grumbling about the mercy passes and the inaccessibility of higher education only be heard in the Randstad? Remarkably, a UM website emphasises that there is definitely a shortage of student rooms: “Is there a housing shortage in Maastricht? Yes, so starting your house hunt early is essential.”


Ironically, the breaking down of borders that internationalisation promotes, is undermined by the Limburg administrators in their alarmist pressing letters by their marking a new border between the Randstad and Limburg. This provincialism completely ignores the fact that the majority of the UM students and researchers are not focussed on Limburg, but embraces a kind of cosmopolitism that respects diversity and inclusiveness. As the Englischisation is being taken too far, diversity and inclusiveness in linguistic terms are not guaranteed, let alone facilitated by the capacity of UM’s Language Centre. That the UM administrators are now at a loss because of the impending changes of language policies, is a self-created problem that results from letting economic benefits prevail over academic values and Bildung. Such administrators ignore the fact that a lot of scientific research does not contribute to the GNP, but is nevertheless of great cultural value. And in the case of Bildung, young people are ideally not formed into a Homo economicus, but into a Homo academicus. 


Maybe The Two Cultures (1959) by C.P. Snow should be rewritten. It seems that in the year 2024 there is no divide between physicists and literati, but between administrators and scientists. This may explain why Robbert Dijkgraaf wrote: “Scientists are born troublemakers, in particular for university administrators.” We could add that university administrators are troublemakers when, in conclave with mayors, CEOs and provincial managers they rate economic values higher than academic values and Bildung.

René Gabriëls, philosopher at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences



E. Demollin-Schneiders et al.: Oproep voor het versterken van het Limburgs onderwijslandschap ten behoeve van de brede welvaart, leefbaarheid en economische dynamiek in de regio (2024)
R. Dijkgraaf: Het nut van nutteloos onderzoek (2012)
Panteia: Economische footprint van Universiteit Maastricht (2023)
A. Postema et alii: Onderwijsmanifest Limburg (2024)
C.P. Snow: The Two Cultures (1959)

Author: Redactie

Photo: Shutterstock

Tags: Opinion,Limburg,Internationalisation,Maastricht University,René Gabriëls

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