Meanwhile this summer...

The swim rings are deflated, the sunshade folded up, the picnic blanket has been aired and flooded basements pumped dry. But what’s been happening in higher education this summer?

photo GaroManjikian / Shutterstock
Netherlands in the top 50

Nine Dutch universities rank in the top two hundred in the world, according to the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. The people responsible for the ARWU ranking evaluate research achievements but also the number of Nobel prize and Fields Medal winners among university staff and alumni.

Harvard University in the US tops the list. Utrecht University rose to number 50, two places higher than last year. But that is counterbalanced by the fact that Erasmus University has dropped from the top 100 to the shared place 101-150. Wageningen University & Research is also pegged there, but this is due to a rise.

But is academe a top sport?

In a recent column, chair of the funder Dutch Research Council (NWO) Marcel Levi, compared academic research with top sport. That didn’t go down well with all sorts of researchers, including the influential Athena’s Angels (including Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences president Ineke Sluiter). There is actually much criticism of the overheated competition for research funding.

The intention wasn’t to insult people, NWO tweeted, but “to initiate the discussion in a playful manner”. Levi also got support: researchers want to be the best, don’t they?

Students and universities jumped in to help flooded areas

Those affected by heavy rainfall in the province of Limburg got help from students in clearing away debris from the floods. Around thirty members of the student union Woord en Daad of Zuyd University of Applied Sciences rolled up their sleeves and helped out for days in places such as Valkenburg.

Maastricht University made beds available for students and staff who had to leave their homes due to rising water levels, noted 1Limburg. The beds in the UM Guesthouse were all made and ready. “You only need to bring along your personal things”, the university informed flood victims.

Students at Fontys in Venlo saw their graduation rained out. The university postponed the graduation so they could keep the streets clear for the evacuation of a nearby hospital. The Fontys campus in Venlo is a stone’s throw from the River Maas. As a precautionary measure, valuable items were transferred to higher ground.

Home testing: now free for even longer

Students and university staff can still order free rapid tests from With the start of classes, they will be able to test themselves twice a week for Covid-19.

Actually, the government wanted to close up shop as of 1 August because in the rush to set up the portal everything wasn’t completely ‘legal’ and the situation couldn’t stay this way for too long. But with the coming of a new peak in cases they needed the extension after all. Incidentally, the home testing kits aren’t very popular; maybe they will take off when on-campus classes start up again.

Students are feeling the coronavirus crisis where it hurts

According to the Dutch Student Union LSVb, lots of students are missing the boat when it comes to the government’s financial compensation package. The LSVb thinks this is unfair and has set up a hotline.

The problem in a nutshell is that if students graduate before 1 September they receive 535 euros as coronavirus compensation, but if they take an extra month, for example, they can forget about that money. They then only get a refund on their tuition fees for that one month. But that means they only get 90 euros instead of 535.

Resistance to ‘recognition and reward’

When evaluating university researchers you can’t just blindly assess the impact of their publications in academic journals is the current thinking of administrators. You also have to look at such things as social influence, teaching abilities and leadership qualities.

A group of 171 academics is deeply troubled by the new ‘recognition and reward’. And they aren’t just anybody: former government minister Ronald Plasterk, Nobel prize winner Ben Feringa and former KNAW president Hans Clevers support the opinion piece in ScienceGuide. They warn of ‘arbitrariness’ and lower quality in research if measurable criteria are jettisoned.

Right away they got an answer from a larger (and mostly younger) group of researchers who think ‘recognition and reward’ is actually a good idea and expressed their resistance to the pursuit of ‘scoring’ and the ‘quantification obsession’.

But does recognition mean you get a permanent contract?

It was a close call, but ultimately 55 percent of union members voted in favour of the new university collective labour agreement, the General Union of Education said. This was far from a sure thing because many members had criticism of the agreements about temporary contracts. Recognition and reward is nice, but a permanent contract is also worth something.

According to the union, the agreements in the collective labour agreement aren’t really the problem. It’s about the way they’re applied. A number of universities seem to be using a ‘creative’ interpretation of the CLA to avoid awarding fixed contracts.

Community service for the promotions mill

The more promotions, the more money from the government. That was the thought behind the promotions mill devised by a dean in Tilburg. He hired family members to supervise external PhD students and even made up fake invoices.

The man received 180 hours of community service instead of a prison sentence of two years, as the public prosecutor had demanded. The period of limitation had passed for some of the offences, the court said, and falsification is not the same as fraud.

PhD candidates in Groningen go to court again

There’s a continuing commotion in Groningen caused by PhD candidates. These are doctoral candidates who receive a student grant instead of a salary. A group of doctoral candidates in medicine is taking the academic medical centre to court demanding to be paid a salary and better employment conditions.

Do they have a chance? In principle they are doing the same work as other doctoral students but they fall under a special experiment that the University of Groningen is making good use of. In that experiment, PhD candidates are not employees but students.

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