Royal Academy President Dogterom shocked by new coalition plans

Royal Academy President Dogterom shocked by new coalition plans

Big budget cuts, reduction in English education, fewer foreign students and researchers KNAW President Marileen Dogterom is “very worried” about the plans of the next government parties, she said on Monday last in his annual speech.

Dogterom says: “While the exact consequences of implementation remain to be seen, the plans suggest that fostering the open and international character of our science system is not high on the agenda. »

It remains to be seen, you said, which seems rather calm.

“But a shock is going through the world of education and science. This is of course a result of severe budget cuts, but beyond money, what does this mean for the value this new coalition places on knowledge and innovation? What about long term investing? This indeed remains to be seen when we begin these discussions later.”

Can the talks change this?

“Along with most parties, you can agree that to address major technological and societal challenges, we need knowledge and training of talent. We do not want to depend on others in Europe and certainly not on the rest of the world for this. We must maintain the strength we have built in education and research.

They don’t really seem to care about this international perspective.

“There are still arguments. Three years ago, it was calculated that science was underfunded, leading, among other things, to a high workload and social security problems. The last administration’s investments were partly aimed at solving this problem. So it’s a shock to see everything, or at least half, reversed. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen, but we are shocked by this first signal.”

Is this a signal? It’s there, in black and white, isn’t it?

“I don’t think it’s yet clear how much freedom a minister will have to flesh out these financial paragraphs. Perhaps that person will have some leeway to make these reductions in other ways. This is just conjecture on my part, but who knows, maybe some issues are open to interpretation and the new minister will be free to seek other majorities in the House of Representatives. The ideas of opposition parties could then exert influence again.”

But for now, for example, the agreement provides for a reduction of 215 million euros per year in sectoral plans, which provides that universities jointly agree on the directions of teaching and research.

“Yes, and cutting that budget would be a really bad idea. It was a structural investment. You can discuss these other funds; they were going to expire anyway. But not the sectoral plans. Around 1,200 people were hired for this purpose. Hopefully the soup isn’t eaten as hot as it is served, but if you take these numbers at face value, should you lay off these 1,200 people?

So you have to wait for the new minister and hope he listens to you?

“We can talk to politicians now. Once again, what was the idea behind the Research and Science Fund (in Dutch: Groeifonds), a billion of which will be cut in the coming years? This didn’t come out of nowhere. We can explain that, and then it’s up to the House or the Cabinet to make choices. This also applies to the sector plans, which were developed under strong political pressure. These plans also include agreements to protect Dutch education, for example. So they don’t want that?

One wonders if reasonable conversation is helpful when these parties are so determined to reduce internationalization.

“We fully understand the challenges the system faces when it comes to internationalization. There must be enough housing, which is a problem in some cities. Universities are also not yet able to establish a numerus fixus for foreign language courses. So it makes sense to give them more direction and ask them to manage them properly. At the same time, the quality of Dutch science is arguably linked to openness and the exchange of talents. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

One might think that these parties want to weaken knowledge and science. This makes it difficult to have a discussion.

“I don’t think that’s what they’re looking for.” Above all, they want less migration, and this partly involves students and researchers.”

But if you listen to the PVV on climate change or the BBB on nitrogen, and add to it the severe budget cuts or the increase in VAT on books, you have to conclude that they are against knowledge and science, is not it ?

“It goes too far to say that the entire coalition is squarely against science. Sometimes parties aren’t interested in knowledge because they think they already know how things are, but that’s another thing.

Geert Wilders recently spoke at a political conference in Hungary, where academic freedom is in poor condition. Orbán is one of its heroes. Don’t you fear Hungarian conditions?

“It would go much further. What is happening in Hungary is not just about science; the whole society lacks certain freedoms. The rule of law and journalism are also affected. We have to be vigilant about this, but it is not a problem currently. It would be a different story if our government told universities, for example, what they should and should not do research or who should become a professor. This would have an impact on the autonomy of science.

You hope to convince politicians with arguments, but have you ever considered driving scientific tractors to the Binnenhof, so to speak?

“The other day I was on a radio show about climate policy with a professor from the Free University (VU) who moved from science to the environmental movement. He said: “I can write many articles concluding that CO2 emissions need to be reduced, but they end up in a drawer. So I have to find another way to get this message across.” As an individual, I can imagine all kinds of things in this regard, but I am president of KNAW. Scientists cannot be activists. If we were, we would be accused of being partisan. In the end, I hope that a large part of the general public is indeed interested in knowledge.