Rector unable to assuage doubts about Yantai

Personnel at the faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) have yet to be persuaded of the RUG’s plans for a campus in Yantai. They feel that their criticism is not taken seriously.

Last Friday, Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken faced a room of more than 90 FEB employees to answer questions about the future campus in China. ‘A lot of people had questions and remarks, and there was a lot of criticism’, says assistant professor and Personnel Faction member Sanne Ponsioen. ‘It did look as though Elmer was having some trouble.’

Contact between the faculty and the Board of Directors has been difficult for several weeks now. According to multiple sources, the faculty board even left a meeting with RUG president Sibrand Poppema about Yantai in early November. However, a spokesperson for the university denies this.


The faculty, tasked with setting up one of the academic programmes in China, has long been critical of the plans for the campus. But the shit hit the fan when Poppema called the faculty’s advisory committee members ‘know-it-alls’ in de Volkskrant. ‘That was not a smart move’, says Ponsioen. ‘People didn’t really like that interview. It was kind of an attack on FEB. Even I felt it that way. It seemed like he was not taking the faculty’s criticism seriously.’

Even though Poppema is the member of the university leadership responsible for the Yantai plans, it was Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken, who used to be the dean of the faculty, who had to straighten things out. However, that went anything but smoothly. ‘The people there were really hammering home the concept of support. In de Volkskrant, Poppema said there was sufficient support. But people said that wasn’t true at all. We don’t see it that way. We’re really not very eager at all’, says Ponsioen.

Promotional video from the university


During the conversation, Sterken admitted that support is of great importance for the success of the project. But his answers did not convince the employees, says the faculty council in a statement. ‘To our growing worry, the rector could not change the support level among FEB personnel, which remains very low.’

There are still many doubts among the personnel about the reasons for going to China. ‘Yantai is an option that just sort of happened by, but it’s not like they had different options and this one looked like the best one. Other possibilities to show off our internationalisation have not been sufficiently looked into’, says Ponsioen.

Business case

The FEB employees also feel there is a lack of a business case. Ponsioen: ‘Business cases are kind of our thing. Show us something. That’s what we teach our students. But we’re getting the idea that it doesn’t even exist. We want to know the story behind it all.’

RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens says that the Board of the University realises that the FEB employees have many remaining questions concerning the support for the Yantai campus. ‘We’re trying to answer these questions to the best of our ability with the information available to us. We do realise we need to work on this and that is what we’re doing, in collaboration with the faculty board and the faculty council.’

Go/no go

But for the Economics and Business personnel, that is no longer enough. They demand a deciding vote when the RUG rules on whether the campus will proceed or not. ‘We just want a go/no go vote too, or at the very least a say in how it’s going to go. Minister Bussemaker has said that without support things can’t proceed. People in the room were asking when it would be our turn to say something. Sterken had a hard time answering that. He was put on the spot, but he didn’t really comment on that. He said we had to talk to the faculty board about that.’

Sterken did say he thought it was a good idea to have small information sessions with employees of FEB and the faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences more often. ‘Additionally, we are working on a business plan together with the faculty. With this approach, we want to further increase support at the faculty’, says Deekens.