By Bas Oudenaarden

In our quiet corner of the country it is hardly noticeable, but in the rest of the Netherlands a revolution is taking place in the Universities. The goal: A democratic university where quality education and research, not efficiency-oriented management, dictate policy.

It all started in the morning of Friday the 13th of February when angry students and faculty members of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), calling themselves “De Nieuwe Universiteit” (the new university), occupied the Bungehuis, and important UvA building in the centre of Amsterdam. Among other things they demanded the impeachment of the Board of Directors (BoD) of the UvA.

From that day onwards the protest has been gaining momentum nationally, especially when 11 days later, 46 students were arrested when riot-police forcefully evicted the occupants from the Bungehuis after the breakdown of talks hosted by the Mayor.

This seemed the end of another result-less protest – but! The next day the Maagdenhuis, the administrative centre of the Uva and the seat of the BoD, was occupied by hundreds of students, and the protest continued.

So what is it all about? To summarize, the students protest the ‘businessification’ of the universities, where profit is more important than the education and research conducted: At the UvA students are rushed through the programs, faculty are employed by temporary contracts, programs that don’t attract enough students to be financially sustainable are cancelled regardless of their academic value, university buildings are used for real estate speculation … the list goes on and on.

Fairly quickly, protests and conversations sprung up in pretty much all other universities in the Netherlands, after the events in Amsterdam. The last few days saw the establishment of a Nieuwe Universiteit group in the universities of Groningen, Delft, Rotterdam, Nijmegen, Leiden, and our own ‘parent’, Utrecht University. The fact that the movement sparked over to the other Dutch universities proves that similar trend are taking shape elsewhere too.

The trend observed and now protested by the students at the Dutch universities is not an isolated one. Across all public institutions in the Netherlands and Europe we can see the same trend of ‘businessification’ (neoliberal privatization): In the name of balancing the budget,  governments are cutting on centralized state spending. As a result, public institutions such as hospitals are now run as companies who need to compete for the patients disease, police and army tasks are now outsourced to private companies, and Universities function as real estate agents.

Closer to home, public housing associations like Woongoed are outsourcing student housing to private corporations like Villex, outsourcing the inventory of those houses to corporations like ELBUCO, and refusing to do small repairs (except when you pay extra for it). This all happens in the name of increasing profits, and not in the name of ‘better quality’.

But why, to return to the first sentence of this article, is it so quiet in our corner of the country? Are we just that apathetic? Or is there something special about UCR? It would be false to say that UC’s are inherently excluded from the ‘efficiency-focused’ management. An obvious example being Amsterdam UC, who’s students have been actively involved in De Nieuwe Universiteit from the start. AUC is housed in a brand-spanking-new real-estate project and pay about twice as much tuition as we do here.

The Dean contributes our “satisfied silence” in her last column (occupy!) to the fact that faculty and students have a majority vote in the Board of Studies, the highest decision-making body of UCR, and that we have a collective culture or dream that strives for excellent education. But that doesn’t mean that the management of UCR doesn’t have its own history with pushing trough unpopular measures despite of the opposition of students, as happened after the “occupation” of Eleanor in the spring semester of 2012, when the institutional fee of €500 was introduced at, back then still, RA.

I think it is because the management of our university is willing to talk to us, and that we have the structures to do so. In other words, we have exactly what the students of De Nieuwe Universiteit are protesting for: a democratic and education-focused university.

So if we are truly sympathetic to the cause of the students of Amsterdam and other universities, we had better make use of these structures, go to GA’s, mail our concerns to the ACC, HAC, or the dean, and actually go to the various discussion sessions – realizing that we are members of a community with civic duties is an important first step to solving many of the problems that we often and vigorously complain about.


Bas Oudenaarden, class of 2015, is a Human Geography and Anthropology major from Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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