Internationalization meets academic freedom in Groningen
Many universities look across the borders of their country, Tilburg University included. The University of Groningen is opening a campus in Yantai, China. The local university magazine reports that there is quite some controversy on this matter, not in the least because one of the university directors stated that the academic freedom ‘cannot be guaranteed’.The president of the University of Groningen, Sibrand Poppema, got green light for the university’s plans to open a Chinese campus in June. This happened after student members in the university council voted in favor of it. In an interview with the university magazine Ukrant, representatives of the personnel fractions express their discontent with the way this decision was taken. They wanted more information first, but before they could gain it, the issue was already off the table.
Jan Visser, member of the council at the time, says: “It’s likely that all the good people will be sent to China. You obviously can’t send any idiots. So what is left?” His colleague Jan Blaauw says: “[Our people] were unable to decide whether they were for or against, because they didn’t have a proper overview. And so the train just rushes on. I think that’s a shame.”
Blog in freedom
There is another issue when it comes to the Yantai campus, and it was discussed during the university council meeting in Groningen last Thursday. On the matter of academic freedom, university director Jan de Jeu said that the university cannot guarantee the academic freedom and the freedom of speech for academics that get sent there. According to Ukrant, he said: “It is a matter that we take very seriously, and it is one of the conditions we put in the proposal that we send to the Chinese Ministry of Education.” De Jeu also said that every case should be examined individually, if there is any suspicion that the freedom of employees is compromised.
Tilburg University has a support office in Beijing, to make the university more visible in China and to increase the inflow of Chinese students. Jacques van Vliet is Academic Liaison Director there. He says that he does not know of problems with academic freedom during Tilburg University’s activities in China. “We do not have an actual campus here, of course, but I do know Dutch scientists like to work with Chinese researchers. Chinese students that come to Tilburg University have to meet certain criteria, just like any other student. Matters of academic freedom are included in that. I personally do not know any cases where people are refused because of that.” Of course, the education climate in China is different, says Van Vliet. “If a Dutch institution opens a campus here, it will have to deal with local rules. But in our recruitment work we are not finding any problems with the difference in climate.”