Personnel question Yantai

The Personnel Faction of the University Council and the faculty council of Economics and Business both formally submitted questions to president Sibrand Poppema about the Yantai plans.

More than a dozen questions about the RUG’s plans in Yantai were posed to the University leadership in a blog post from the personnel faction on Wednesday. In particular, ‘the timeline, the go/no go – decision, a risk analysis, the level of academic freedom, the quality assurance of the programmes, and the impact on the RUG itself’ were cited as issues that had not been adequately addressed by the University so far.

The letter also called for a report on the Chinese delegation visit in April, a clearer overview of important deadlines and an explanation of the role of co-governance in decision-making.

Specific request

During the University Council meeting on Thursday, RUG president Sibrand Poppema addressed several of those issues. He said that, like other universities in China, University of Groningen-Yantai – UGY – would have an Academic Council composed of staff members, as well as a student union.

The personnel faction letter also questioned the decision to only offer two faculty programmes. ‘It seems that we should look at it as a copy of merely two faculties rather than any others, which would mean the UGY is not a copy of the RUG’, the letter states.

Poppema says the plan is to eventually broaden the curriculum, but Economics and Business (FEB) and Mathematics and Natural Sciences (FMNS) were specifically requested by Yantai. ‘Our explicit intention is to make it a broad university. We are also beginning with FMNS and FEB because we can best judge what investments need to be made based upon their needs, such as laboratory infrastructure.’

Staff-to-student ratio

Many of the faction’s questions were similar to those raised by the FEB and FMNS staff during the Bernoulliborg informational meeting on Tuesday. Kees van Veen, chairman of the FEB faculty council, also submitted a formal list of questions to president Poppema this week.

Concerns that staffing a second university poses the risk of increasing the ‘already substantial’ workload of the instructors were included in the FEB letter as well. Poppema’s explanation of how that will be avoided is that enough money will be made from UGY students paying tuition fees during their required year in Groningen to hire teachers, thus keeping the staff-to-student ratio in balance.

However, the first Yantai students are expected to begin arriving in Groningen in 2019, and the two years in between when FEB and FMNS staff will already be expected to be teaching in China were not directly addressed.

Freedom of speech

A fair number of staff members within FEB remain skeptical about the plans, due in part to the feeling they have not been adequately informed by the University. ‘To raise the legitimacy of the initiative among personnel and students, it would be good if you could explain the plan and its expected added value for our faculty in more detail’, the FEB letter states.

Van Veen’s letter also addresses potential conflicts over freedom of expression, or lack thereof. ‘In the Netherlands, freedom of speech is a fundamental value within academia, which is valued quite differently in China.’

President Poppema was more forceful in his response to that issue than the others. He says that representatives from University of Nottingham Ningbo China and Xi’an-Jiaotong Liverpool University have assured him: ‘There is absolutely no pressure put upon them in terms of academic freedom. The real Chinese universities may be a different story, but even there, there aren’t any obstacles for western instructors. There is absolutely no interference.’

Genuinely good

The student parties of the University Council also voiced some concerns during the meeting. Leon Sloots of Lijst STERK says the party is positive about the plans, but identified an apparent lack of good will among the staff as a problem. ‘Does the board have concrete plans to better inform people so as to generate more support?’ he asked. Representatives from SOG echoed misgivings about maintaining staff levels, and Lijst Calimero’s Bernadette van der Blij questioned how much influence the RUG will actually have over its own academic programmes in China.

Poppema remained firm on the last issue. ‘They are our programmes that we will be offering, and we will tell the ministry in China that this is how they are going to look in order to convince them that we have genuinely good programmes and staff.’