How should we treat our schools?

Our campus can be seen as a special kind of ecosystem, which, just like the sea, forests and oil, is equally subject to exploitation.In maritime industry, there are ongoing discussions about how the industry can use available resources without permanently damaging the ecosystem. The desire for sustainable exploitation is an indicator of policy shifting away from the current model of generating fast revenue with little concern for the consequences over time.

Likewise, within the ‘ecosystem’ of the university, there are different resources in the form of various disciplines, and the extent to which they can be valorised (meaning that they can create value from the research they generate) differs dramatically. In this ‘educational ecosystem’, problems arise when existing policies show little flexibility with regard to the earning potential those disciplines have, and the faculties most impacted by this rigidity are the humanities and social sciences, also known as HASS. While resources in the ocean are targeted selectively based on their value and those that are deemed unexploitable are left alone, in an educational ecosystem, the resources which are tougher to tap do not remain undisturbed: disciplines that are not easily valorised can experience negative side effects. The Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) writes: ‘Compared to ‘hard’ sciences, humanities and social sciences’ (HASS) social benefits and services are more diffuse and less easily enumerated and capitalized. Likewise, their ‘clients’ or beneficiaries often are public bodies, non-profit organizations, and other community groups with lower purchasing power.’ In other words, in order to answer the demands for calculable, revenue-friendly research, a different set of policies needs to be applied to those disciplines. Because the HASS stakeholders are often groups from the general public who don’t have sufficient influence when shaping policy that results in less legitimacy, fewer resources and a decreased sense of urgency for those disciplines leaving them less capable of serving the general public interest.

At our University, the processes surrounding valorisation are not much written about

In line with AWTI, the university should try and address these community stakeholders as equal business interests. Given that the monetary value of research done at HASS has traditionally been difficult to quantify, that is admittedly no easy task. But in order to establish sustainable management of our educational ecosystem, we need to protect its endangered parts.

At our University, the processes surrounding valorisation are not much written about. Recently, there were news being published where one could read that the Valorisation Board has been established and which should now work according to the valorisation agenda. Besides this, there was an interesting discussion where Tobias Klein nicely summed up what valorisation exactly means for the University-Company partnerships. Now, this wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that for quite some time, it has been an issue for the HASS to take an equal part in those procedures. The results of the policies not being designed to accommodate the unique position of HASS can be observed in the general alarming state of those Schools across Europe. The fall in number of student enrolments, University support and general attitude is not going to be countered by some kind of intervention from The Hague. The issue lays in the rigidness of the policies and demands that ask from the HASS to produce a marketable service and revenue. The crucial thing that new policy design needs to acknowledge is that HASS research has impact that cannot be measured within the limited space/time scale.

Once developing a satisfactory approach that can accommodate the way in which the research is done in HASS, a change for the better will be on its way.

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