KNAW President: “It is an exaggeration to say that the entire coalition is against science”

KNAW President: “It is an exaggeration to say that the entire coalition is against science”

The president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), Marleen Dujterum, says the upcoming government’s plans represent a shock to higher education and science. But she is not yet afraid of “galactic conditions.”

Big budget cuts, less English-language teaching, fewer foreign students and researchers… KNAW President Marilyn Dugterum is “very concerned” about the upcoming government parties’ plans, she said in her speech last Monday. Annual letter.

Dogterum: Although it should be clear from the details what the exact consequences will be, the plans indicate that promoting the open international character of our scientific system is not high on the agenda.

Daughter Marilyn. Photo: Angie Hoagland

I said it had to be seen. This seems very calm.

“There is a shock going through the world of education and science, you know. This is of course linked to the big cuts, but apart from the money: what does this mean for the value that this new alliance places on knowledge and innovation? And what about long-term investments? This should become clear already when We start having those conversations later.

Will talks change this?

“You can agree with most parties that we need knowledge and talent training to meet the grand challenges in technology and society. We do not want to depend on others in Europe, and certainly not on the rest of the world. We must maintain the strength we have built in education and research.

It seems that they do not value this international outlook very much.

“There are more arguments.” Three years ago, it was estimated that there was a lack of funding in science, which led to, among other things, high workloads and social safety problems. Previous government investments were partly aimed at addressing this problem. So it is a shock to see that everything, or at least half of it, has been upended. Of course we will have to see if that actually happens, but we were shocked by this first sign.

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Is it a signal? Isn’t there only black and white?

“I don’t think it’s clear yet how much freedom the minister has in interpreting these financial sections. And perhaps this person has room to achieve those cuts in another way. I’m just imagining for a moment, but who knows, some issues may be open and the new minister will be free to explore For other majorities in the House of Representatives, the ideas of the opposition parties can again have an influence.

“If you take those numbers literally, would you have to fire those 1,200 people again?”

But at the moment, for example, there is a reduction of 215 million euros per year on sector plans in the agreement, in which universities jointly agree on the path of education and research.

“Yes, and cutting that budget would be a very bad idea.” This was a structural investment. You can discuss those other funds; They were almost finished anyway. But not the sector plans. 1,200 people were permanently appointed for this purpose. Hopefully the soup won’t be eaten that hot, but if you take these numbers literally, should you fire those 1,200 people again?

Do you have to wait for the new minister and then hope that he will listen to you?

“We can actually talk to politicians. What is the idea behind the Research and Science Fund, which will be reduced by $1 billion in the coming years? It just hasn’t happened. We can explain that, and then it’s up to the House of Representatives or the Cabinet to make choices. And that It also applies to the sector plans, which came under a lot of pressure from politicians and we also make agreements to protect the Dutch cycle, for example, don’t they want that?

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You might wonder whether a sensible conversation would help if these parties were willing to limit internationalization to that extent.

“We understand the concerns that the system must be able to cope with internationalization. There must be enough accommodation; in some cities that plays a role. Universities have also not yet been able to impose a digital reform on foreign language courses, so it is It makes sense to give them more control and ask them to handle this properly. At the same time, the quality of Dutch science is clearly linked to openness and sharing of talent. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Some may think that these parties want to weaken knowledge and science. Then it is difficult to talk.

I don’t think that’s what they’re after. They basically want less immigration and part of that has to do with students and researchers.

But if you hear the PVV on climate change or the BBB on nitrogen, and you add the harsh cuts or VAT increases on books, then you have to conclude that they are against knowledge and science?

“It’s really an exaggeration to say that the entire coalition is directly against science. Sometimes the parties don’t care about knowledge because they already think they know how things work, but that’s a different thing.

“Science cannot take an activist position: then we will be accused of bias.”

Geert Wilders recently spoke at a political conference in Hungary, where academic freedom is weak. Orbán is one of his heroes. Aren’t you afraid of Hungarian conditions?

“This would go several times further.” What is happening in Hungary is not only about science, but about the entire society that lacks some freedoms. It is also about the rule of law and the press. We have to be vigilant about this, but it’s not a problem now. It would be a different story if our government told universities, for example, what research should or should not be about or who should become a professor, because it is about the autonomy of science.

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You hope to convince politicians with arguments, but have you never thought of driving the scientific tractors to the Binnenhof, so to speak?

“I recently sat on a radio show about climate policy with a lecturer from Vrije Universiteit, who has made the switch from science to the environmental movement. He said: ‘I can write many articles with the conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions should be reduced, but those articles end up In the drawer, so I have to find another way to get this message across as someone who can imagine all sorts of things, but I’m the president of KNAW. Science can’t adopt an activist stance: that’s when we end up being accused of bias, I’m sure The general public is already interested in knowledge.

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