Tag Archives: Academic

The Danish view on the Ukraine: Danish Fast News

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

Denmark is characterized by high taxes and high welfare benefits. However the Danish government worries, that EU legislation is making it possible for outsiders to exploit the Danish system. Tinuke Maria Iyore highlights the most important Danish news this week. 

The influence of EU-laws on the Danish welfare system has caused an explosive debate the past week. According to EU regulations, EU citizens can earn the right to unemployment benefits in any EU nation and take these benefits with them across the union. Danish politicians are concerned that this will lead to exploitation of the generous Danish welfare system.

Denmark and Finland are the only EU-countries that require vetting for foreign citizens to receive unemployment benefits. The Danish prime minister recently announced that she wants to tighten these rules, making it even harder for EU-citizens to obtain benefits in Denmark. However this might be a violation against EU’s laws on discrimination and freedom of movement.

The Danish welfare system is funded by a high income tax, and EU-citizens working in Denmark are obliged to pay this high income tax, but are not given the same rights as Danish citizens.

Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party, adds that the Danish government wants to increase control with EU-citizens exploitation of the Danish welfare state, in order to prevent welfare tourism. “The free movement in the EU creates economic growth and jobs, but we have seen an increase in EU-citizens, particularly from Eastern Europe, receiving unemployment and social benefits. We take this development seriously, and must make sure that EU-citizens can meet the requirements for receiving benefits in Denmark”, she says to Danish newspaper Politiken.

More useful degrees

Eight Danish universities will be working towards lowering unemployment rates by comparing programmes to employment statistics. This year the regulation of admissions will be a cooperative effort from these eight universities. Some universities have previously made similar attempts to prevent educating young Danes on career paths that lead to unemployment. However this cooperation between universities is a first. The programmes will be assessed each year using the same procedure, ensuring that Danish universities are educating according to business and industry demands.

A signal to Russia

Denmark’s Liberal Party and other liberal parties in the European council have agreed on a proposal to deny Russia voting rights in the council, due to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.  The council’s purpose is to ensure the respect of human rights and democracy. These principles have been violated by Russia on numerous occasions and the spokesman of the council’s group of liberal parties, Michael Aastrup Jensen, thinks it is important to send a strong signal to Russia. This would not be the first time Russia has lost its voting rights in the council. In 2000, the country was “punished” for the Russian army’s behavior in Chechnya.

Advertisements

Equality or discrimination?

Flickr: HBarrison

The University of Copenhagen wants to attract more female applicants to research positions. A gender action plan has been set in motion, and is to be implemented by the end of 2014. Tinuke Maria Iyore investigates what Danish student media are writing about the plan.  

COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HAS presented a new action plan for gender balance. One of the proposals is that both genders have to be represented in the applicants for research positions.

The proposal has received a lot of attention in Danish media and was recently up for debate at a Copenhagen University board meeting, where several board members expressed their concern about this requirement. Certain members of the Danish Parliament have even called the proposal discriminating.

However a close look at the pile of applications shows that the university might be facing an even bigger problem. The pile is simply too small.

Gender vs. Qualifications

According to the rector of Copenhagen University’s Ralf Hemmingsen, the proposal is not gender-discriminating. “We’re testing the proposal, because we find that there are too few female professors. I don’t think it is discriminating to make sure that we have at least one female and one male applicant.

“I would like to emphasize that qualifications remain the determining factor,” he says to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

At the most recent board meeting, members agreed that the main goal of the action plan should be to attract more qualified applicants. Some board members believed emphasis should be put solely on qualifications, while others thought that the main focus should be attracting more qualified female applicants, due to the notion that this minority within academia holds a great deal of talent.

Danish Equality Laws

The minister for gender equality, Manu Sareen of the Social Liberal Party, welcomes the proposal. “I think it is important that the universities work towards a more equal gender composition. It’s about making the most of all talents”, he says to Berlingske.

He also states that it is equally important that the university stays within the Danish equality laws. The University of Copenhagen has previously obtained a waiver from this law with their 2008 action plan; ‘Diversity – more women in management’.

Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, who is Research Spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is sceptical of the proposal. He calls it  “very discriminating” and thinks it diverts attention from simply hiring the most qualified applicant.

The Bigger Problem

The lack of applicants seems to be a problem that goes beyond gender. The board of Copenhagen University is concerned that every third research position receives only one application – thus granting no certainty that the most qualified researcher is actually the one who gets the job.

This might actually pose a larger problem than the lack of female applicants. “The universities should concentrate on attracting highly skilled employees. Not by making special proposals for women, but by creating a more attractive work environment, so more qualified applicants – both men and women – apply for the university’s research positions,” says Merete Riisager, spokeswoman on gender equality for the Liberal Alliance party, to Berlingske.

– – –

Do you think the University of Copenhagen is engaging in positive discrimination?  Is this an appropriate response to uneven employment figures?  Where should the university’s priorities lie regarding top reseach jobs?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photo credit: HBarrison [Flickr]

Based on the following articles from Universitetsavisen:

 

http://universitetsavisen.dk/politik/rektor-ingen-diskrimination-her

 

http://universitetsavisen.dk/politik/konsdebat-i-bestyrelsen-kun-en-ansoger-til-hver-tredje-forskerstilling-er-kaempe-problem

2013 – Britain’s Annus Horribilis?

BbPgb64CMAAo_lC

At the turn of 2013, no one could have guessed the start of the year would result in such a harsh U-Turn in the UK’s public conscience. No longer was the forced Olympic and Jubilee celebrations enough to numb the public into a state of self-satisfied inertia, 2013 became the year of panic, protests and heavy handed policing. A year on, Pandeia explores how each new month brought more instances of disturbances and unrest in this 2013 Year in Review.

 

January 2013 – Isle of Man tuition fees, Oxford students protest Assange visit.

At the beginning of last year, a decision to introduce tuition fees for students from the Isle of Man was met with considerable protests. Three demonstrations took place in front of the Manx parliament, including an 800 signature strong petition. As reported in IOM Today, the group ‘Say No to Manx Tuition Fees’ helped organize the protest, the efforts ultimately leading to a postponement of the policy. The fees faced by Manx students would be a minimum of £2,500

january isle of man protests

    Via: Prospect Isle of Man https://www.facebook.com/IOMProspect

 

Meanwhile, a group of students from Oxford University opposed a presentation via video-link of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on their campus to give a speech to students.

 

http://

Julian Assange will be speaking at the Oxford Union on 23rd January. WomCam will be protesting. More details to come; get involved.

— OUSUWomen’sCampaign (@womcam) January 9, 2013

 

 

As reported in The Oxford Student the speech was to be broadcast at the Oxford Union. Wadham SU passed a statement of disapproval with its women’s officer claiming Assange’s address would be “disrespectful to survivors of rape and sexual assault.” The Oxford Union defended the decision and encouraged people to use the question and answer session to put the allegations to Mr Assange. However, Tom Rutland, President of the Oxford University Students’ Union  stood in criticism of the move.

 

As reported in the independent Oxford student paper Cherwell,  up to 70 protesters amassed outside the union during the speech given by Assange. The paper also reported that Assange criticised a film ‘The Fifth Estate’ which he claimed was “a lie upon a lie.”

 

http://

Oxford Union uploaded #Assange‘s speech only after removing Collateral Murder footage, replacing it with Union’s logo. http://t.co/ED4Cq2T9
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 28, 2013

 

 

It was reported that, despite this, Assange faced a number of probing questions about his designation as a fugitive. Assange is currently within the Ecuadorian embassy and faces extradition to Sweden to face charges for rape.

 

http://

JA in response to student – I won’t go back to Sweden to face trial because they won’t agree not to extradite me to USA

— Oxford Union (@OxfordUnion) January 23, 2013

 

 

http://

Julian Assange finds no allies and tough queries in Oxford University talk http://t.co/SGNmsDJL via @guardian
— Oxford Union (@OxfordUnion) January 24, 2013

 

 

February 2013 – Sussex students start occupation against privatisation

In February, a group of students at Sussex University began a long-term occupation of a university building to protest the privatisation of services at the university.

 

http://

 

 

Hundreds of protesters camped out in the Bramber House building on the university campus. As reported in The Badger, the campaign attracted national media attention and was supported by a number of high profile names, including commentator Owen Jones.

 

http://

 

This protest would continue for some time and later in the year would lead to an escalation in hostilities between students and university authorities.

 

March 2013 – Final trial of students arrested during 2010 protests. Acquittal of Alfie Meadows whose skull was allegedly fractured by a police baton during 2010 protests.

 

Alfie Meadows, a student who required emergency surgery after the 2010 protests against tuition fees was found not guilty of violent disorder last March.

 

http://

 

Meadows, who was a student at Middlesex University at the time of the protest, required surgery for a fractured skull after being allegedly bludgeoned by a police baton. Meadows also pledged to continue legal action against the Metropolitan Police which was postponed while he fought the charges.

http://

Justice for Alfie Meadows and Zak King! More than two years after the student protests of December 2010, two… http://t.co/97Krntyx
— Left Unity (@LeftUnityUK) February 11, 2013

 

 

In the same trial, fellow student Zak King was also found to be innocent of charges levied against him by police.

 

April 2013 – Four people arrested during Sussex student occupation. 

 

As reported in The Badger, four students were arrested in April during an eviction of protesters occupying a university building, after weeks of ongoing protest.

 

http://

 

 

The decision to evict the students came after the occupation started in February and was criticised by some groups.  A protest was organised at Sussex University calling for a continuation of protests and support for those students who were arrested. It also opposed the presence of police at peaceful protest and called for ‘Cops Off Campus’.

 

http://

 

 

May 2013 – Pledge to protest closing of ULU. 

 

The planned closure of the University of London Union was announced in May. This was met with hostility by many students and would be the trigger for protests and arrests later in the year.

 

http://

@Channel4 PRESS RELEASE: Students pledge to fight #ULU closure http://t.co/kNi3pdGSF3

— ULU (@ULUnion) May 3, 2013

 

 

As reported in The Journal the NUS pledged to support the union and oppose its closure.

 

 

June 2013 – Students occupy Warwick in protest at rise in Vice Chancellors pay. Stop G8 Protests in London.

 

As reported in Warwick-student newspaper The Boar, over 20 students occupied the Senate House on the Warwick campus to oppose privatisation at the university. One of the protesters said that the occupation took inspiration from the occupation at Sussex University earlier in the year. One of the protesters also said they were committed to dialogue but feared that the campus security services would cut off access to toilet facilities and food supplies.

 

http://

 

 

However, again reported in The Boar, the protest ended peacefully on 22 June with many protesters claiming they didn’t want to occupation to drag on and result in legal action.

 

Meanwhile, June also saw anti-G8 protests which included ‘Stop G8 Network’ –  which opposes the G8 and calls for an anti-capitalist agenda who were holding a ‘Carnival against Capitalism’.

 

http://

Carnival against capitalism! Come on down to Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus starting right now! #stopg8

— StopG8 (@stopG8UK) June 11, 2013

 

 

During the protests there were allegations of police brutality towards protesters and one man arrested on a rooftop was taken to hospital as reported in the Huffington Post

 

Police said that there had been incidents of criminal behaviour and rumours of planned violence towards police. 57 were arrested according to The Guardian during the break-up of an occupation in Beak Street.

 

http://

@MetPoliceEvents Sec 60AA gives Officers the power to remove masks #J11” Meanwhile… pic.twitter.com/Iw7MSEFS5q

— Sean Hughes (@SeanWHughes) June 11, 2013

 

 

July 2013 – Announcement of Crime and anti-Social Behaviour Bill. Arrest at ULU after protest slogans written in chalk.

 

During July, the ‘Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Bill’ was announced. This led to widespread concerns among many that it could restrict the right to protest.

 

http://

 

 

As reported in the London Tab, 15 police officers were called to University of London Senate Building to arrest a student who had written a slogan in chalk on a wall protesting the closure of the University of London Union (ULU).

 

http://

#ULU protest – Konstancja Duff, 24, from Camberwell, has been charged with criminal damage and assault X2 on police –http://t.co/D6N01pENuG — Jack Grove (@jgro_the) July 17, 2013

 

 

August 2013 – Fracking protest – arrest of Caroline Lucas MP.

 

As reported in The Guardian dozens of anti-fracking protesters were arrested at the Balcombe site in a ‘day of action’ by activists during August.

 

 

http://

Latest picture from @rtcc_sophie at the #Balcombe #fracking protest: pic.twitter.com/gGT1NWarw2
— RTCC #climate news (@RTCCnewswire) July 25, 2013

 

 

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion was also arrested. Charges were later levied against the former Green Party leader for “breaching a police order on public assemblies and wilful obstruction of the highway.”

 

http://

Big thanks for all kind comments about #fracking protest yesterday & huge credit to all at #Balcombe for commitment to clean energy future

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) August 20, 2013

One of most interesting issues in the fracking debate came in the role of Dr Edward Lloyd-Davies, who up until 2012 worked at the University of Sussex, it was reported in The Daily Telegraph that he was the founding member of Frack Off, the largest anti-fracking protest group. These reports attested to the continuing partnership between University staff and students in the demonstrations.

 

September 2013 – Aldgate East protests – EDL leader arrested along with 150 anti-fascist protesters.

An English Defence League (EDL) protest in Aldgate East was met by a large number of anti-fascist protesters in September. The leader of the EDL Tommy Robinson was arrested by police along with 14 others from the EDL. 150 anti-fascist protesters were also arrested for straying from the route. Approximately 3,000 police officers were deployed to keep order between the rival groups.

Robinson was also banned from speaking at Oxford Union the same month, amid ‘security concerns’. Speaking to the BBC, Oxford Student Union president Tom Rutland said that he was ‘delighted’ that the invitation had been withdrawn, stating:

“Fascist speakers who spread hate and threats that extend to our students and the wider community, and often bring with them a rally of violent and dangerous thugs, are clearly a threat to the safety of students and other residents of the city.”

 

http://

Pic from #EDL at Aldgate. Hearing about 800 anti-fascists in Aldgate East, not too far from the EDL protest site. pic.twitter.com/ULDRyrL
— HOPE not hate (@hopenothate) September 3, 2011

 

 

October 2013 – Edinburgh students detained during visit by Princess Anne.

 

Two students at the University of Edinburgh were detained by Royal Protection Officers at the University’s Old College Building during a visit by Princess Anne in September.

 

http://

EXCLUSIVE: Students detained after being forcibly removed from Old College http://t.co/hHEp1686OW

— Student Newspaper (@TheStudentPaper) October 9, 2013

 

 

The students claimed they were quietly studying when searched and arrested by the authorities.

 

Police Scotland said that the students were not detained under terrorism legislation and the removal of the pair was due to their unauthorised presence within a restricted area. Speaking to Pandeia, University Trustee Mike Shaw branded the incident a “disgusting breach of trust between the student body and their institution”.

 

Meanwhile, Sussex students restarted their efforts to overturn the decision to privatise services at the university. The previous occupation ended with a number of arrests and the latest occupation again centred on the Bramber House building.

 

Sussex is #occupied
— occupy_sussex (@occupy_sussex) October 30, 2013

 

 

November 2013 – Michael Chessum arrested after meeting with University of London representatives. Police try to recruit ‘spy’ at Cambridge.

 

University of London Union (ULU) President Michael Chessum was arrested by police in November after organising what police claimed was an unofficial protest.

 

http://

Michael Chessum, ULU president has been arrested following yesterdays demonstration. More details here: http://t.co/YMELbXd11f #saveULU

— Leopard Newspaper (@LeopardNews) November 14, 2013

 

 

As reported in The Leopard this led to a protest outside a Holborn police station calling for Chessum’s immediate release.

 

http://

Pic- #ulu /student protest,Holborn police station,against Michael Chessum arrest. Full story: http://t.co/ml0v2rbV7W pic.twitter.com/hM2rxSrGtl
— Chris Parr (@ChrisParrTHE) November 14, 2013

 

 

Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire police received criticism for their attempt to recruit an informer within the student union at Cambridge University.

<!– Start of guardian embedded video –>
<!– To autoplay video, set ‘a=true’ in the following line of code–>
<iframe src=”http://embedded-video.guardianapps.co.uk/?a=false&u=/uk-news/video/2013/nov/14/police-cambridge-university-informant-think-video&#8221; frameborder=”0″ width=”460″ height=”397″>
<!– End of guardian embedded video –>

 

http://

Cambridge students denounce police attempts to recruit informant to monitor student activists http://t.co/9tjDOpIL1E

— TheCambridgeStudent (@TCSNewspaper) November 15, 2013

 

 

December 2013 – Multiple arrests and allegations of police brutality at ULU. Sussex students suspended then reinstated. #copsoffcampus.

 

Five students were suspended by Sussex University for their role in the on-going Occupy Sussex movement which has been based in Bramber House since late October.

 

This led to an outcry among many who supported the five and demanded they be reinstated.

 

http://

 

 

After pressure from the campaign, the students were eventually reinstated by the university.

 

http://

 

 

Another protest at ULU resulted in more arrests and a video emerged of a police officer apparently punching a protester.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoL5BuoAnIs

 

According to the London Student 36 arrests were made including editor of the London Student Oscar Webb who showed his press card to photographers while being arrested.

 

http://

 

 

This culminated in a day of protest: #copsoffcampus was a national day of action and a large protest took place in central London criticising police brutality and restrictions on protest by the authorities.

 

1150155_10152205882722573_828527269_n

Are Men Better Professors Than Women? Denmark Addresses the Academic Gender Gap

A ‘worryingly low’ number of female lecturers and professors in universities has lead to heated discussions about gender equality in Denmark. Following this ground-breaking study, Katrine Obel-Grønbæk  translates and investigates the Danish student medias’ analysis of the issue.

 The Danish government earmark 70 million DKK (12.7m US dollars, 9.4m Euro) for the advancement of female researchers, with the introduction of University led cash incentives for the employment of female staff after reports of ‘worryingly’ low female university positions throughout the country’s academic institutions.

Since 2000, more women than men have been attending Danish universities, and today an equal amount of female and male PhD students are being educated. However, these numbers are not reflected at the level of research where men still – by far – outnumber women. For every one woman that is appointed a professor at a Danish educational institution,  there are five men who get the title. And every time a woman becomes a lecturer, two men achieve the same.

New financial initiatives are going to secure more female researchers

In terms of the proportion of women in research, Denmark is not doing well compared to other countries. Last year, an EU survey ranked Denmark at a lowly 23rd out of 27 countries, far behind both Sweden and Norway.

The Danish government has responded with action. In cooperation with The Free Research Council, they have launched a program that is going to “promote a more equal gender composition of the research environments in Denmark”. The programme, which is going to cost 70 million DKK, will be open to all fields of study and both men and women can apply.

“But through dispensation from the law of equal treatment, female applicants will be prioritized over male applicants in cases of equal qualifications between two applicants,” a representative from The Free Research Council said about the programme.

“Our assessment is that we are losing a lot of talent,” the Danish Education Minister Morten Østergaard says to Politiken, one of Denmark’s leading newspapers. With an equal gender distribution among PhD students, he does not believe that the inequality arises because men are better at being professors than women. “

There has to be other things that come into play, apparently making the career path harder for women,” he says.

The measures, however, have been met by heavy criticism. According to critics, they translate into female favoritism at the expense of their talented male colleagues. And then it is no longer a question of equality, they argue.

The myth of meritocracy

Everyone agrees that individuals should be evaluated on their qualifications and not their sex. However, the numbers seem to indicate that gender bias still exists in the meritocratic structures of the universities: that is, a system whereby the talented are chosen and subsequently move ahead purely on the basis of their achievements and abilities.

For a long time, universities believed – and some still do – that meritocracy would prevail and that women just needed time to catch up with their male counterparts; they did get access to the universities later than men, so it only seemed natural. Up until now, the rationale has therefore been that the numbers would even out by themselves over time.

This has not happened. The proportion of women among the employed researchers at Danish universities has not changed significantly since 1979. In fact, if the current developmental pace is going to continue, we will have to wait another 246 years before there will be as many women as men among the faculty members of the University of Copenhagen. PhD student Gry Høngsmark Knudsen bases her numbers on employment statistics, among other things, and says that it is a myth that universities have always employed the best candidates.

Discrimination is hard to measure. But in 2012, for the first time, a ground-breaking study from Yale showed that gender is a factor. It had both male and female scientists presented with application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position and who intended to go on to graduate school. Half the scientists were given the application with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. Results found that the ‘female’ applicants were rated significantly lower than the ‘males’ in competence, ‘hire-ability’, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student. The scientists also offered lower starting salaries to the ‘female’ applicants: $26,507.94 compared to $30,238.10.

The universities take action

“Believing that things will sort themselves out does not hold water. It is not because some angry, old men are sitting and trying to keep women out. There are structures, habits and a culture in society that means that we all – including the women – have a perception that men are slightly more smart and have a bit more edge. And we need to get rid of that,” associate professor Anja C. Anderson says to Politiken. She is one of the advocates for the new financial initiatives and she used to be part of the gender equality taskforce at the University of Copenhagen.

In the last few years, gender equality has been a key agenda at most Danish universities. In 2007, the University of Copenhagen introduced cash rewards to the institutes and faculties that hired female professors. Three years later, more than every fourth newly employed professor was a woman. The number was under 16 per cent before.

For the time being, it seems that women need help breaking the existing structural barriers. And it seems that finance is an area that can make a difference.

Higher Costs: Do Students Understand the Consequences of a U.S Education?

The American higher educational system is ranked by many as the best in the world – and it had better be for the price tag that is attached to it, argues Christine Wendel for Pandeia.

For tuition and living expenses, Americans will pay an average of $19,000 per year to attend a four-year public university. This means a total price tag of $76,000 for a bachelor’s degree, and that’s if the student graduates in four years. If he or she attends a private university, it will be an additional ten to fifteen thousand dollars more each year, and if students want to pursue a programme at a public university in a state outside of their own, they should be prepared to shell out double the price of attending a school in their own state.

Talk about a lot of money, considering that it is almost mandatory nowadays to have a college degree in the US in order to earn more than minimum wage – $7.25 per hour. People earning minimum wage, even working several jobs, are below the poverty line.

However, a problem is growing among the approximate 20 million Americans who attend college each year. They are having trouble paying back the thousands of dollars in student loans that are piling up. Even with their degrees in hand, the job market is not putting enough graduates to work, leaving debt defaults to follow. No job, no money, no debt payments.

Next to mortgages, student loans are the second largest type of consumer borrowing in the US. About two-thirds of all Americans who attend college take out student loans to cover the cost of earning a degree. By the time the average college student graduates, he or she owes an average of $26,000 in student loans.

Try walking out into the world with $26,000 in debt and feeling positive about the future. In October, Bloomberg reported that U.S. borrowers all together owe over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. It was once an option for some graduates to move back home with mom and dad for a couple years after graduation. Now, for many, it is the only option.

Why such high tuition costs?

The Washington Post explains that there has been a 20 per cent drop in state funding and donations towards higher education institutions since 2000. This has led to a larger burden on tuition payers since universities want to keep the same standards. Forty-seven states have had at least a ten per cent increase in tuition within the last five years KBIA Radio reported in October. The state of Georgia had the greatest tuition fee increase of all public universities – a whopping 65 per cent since 2008.

Young Americans want to pursue an education, but the burden of huge student loans that will follow may lead some to think twice. This, however, is not the only problem. Bloomberg reports that 14.7 per cent of those with student loans have defaulted on their debt payments. That is up from 13.4 per cent in 2012, and is the highest default rate since 1995.

Compared to many European countries where education for all who are willing to put forth effort, the American system seems flawed. It is all about who has the money. If you have parents who are alumni, you can receive higher education. If your parents can afford to pay in-state tuition, you can receive higher education. But, if neither of these are the case, you can count on one large student loan bill following you around once you’ve been handed your degree.

The worst part is that students don’t understand.

Most students do not even realise what taking out huge loans entails. Seven million Americans have defaulted on student loan payments. A default can have serious consequences, even impacting future employment as many employers now perform credit checks before hiring. High interest rates on student loans and a market economy that has not been strong are both attributed to defaults.

A professor of European Journalism in Brussels told his pupils if European students were paying American prices for universities there would be riots in the street. Maybe it can be attributed to the US’ laid-back, positive, American-dream attitude. For whatever reason, there are no riots in the streets, no contests to sharp tuition hikes, only students continuing to take out more and more student loans to pursue an education.

 photo by Truthout.org

An Academic ‘Revolution’? Dutch Research System in Crisis

Not only censorship leads to a lack of trustworthy information: Nele Goutier highlights the growing problems, shortcuts and abuses prevalent in the Dutch academic system of research.  

In the Netherlands there is an increasing distrust towards academic knowledge. Some even claim the academic world is in crisis and in need for a revolution. Five prominent Dutch scholars pose in their recently published position paper ‘Science in Transition’ (SIC) and homonymous website that the academic system is corrupt and requires thorough change.

For Professor Jan Vandenbroucke of the Leiden University Medical Center it is very clear. “Everything goes wrong”, he begins at his contribution on drug research. Research funded by pharmaceutical companies conclude for example much more often that the drug invented by the sponsor is the best option, than research paid with public money does.

“Not because the researchers are corrupt, but because the system is corrupted,” explains Vandenbroucke. An example: scientists are paid to compare the new drug with a placebo, while companies by publicly funded research usually compare it with an already existing drug.

Compare it with drinking Red Bull: who consumes energy drinks is more alert on the road, according to research funded by Red Bull. You may be able to achieve the same level of alertness by drinking a cup of coffee, but that comparison is not made. Red Bull may be the best choice compared to drinks without caffeine, but compared to coffee that may not be the case.

Another problem is that the researchers are judged on their number of publications and the number of times that their articles are cited by colleagues. That provokes a variety of strategies: scientists would for example agree to quote each other’s articles to keep their scores up. Professors would sometimes abuse their statuses to get their names on other people’s publications while they have barely contributed to it.

Shared responsibility

The Dutch website Science In Transition provides recommendations to achieve a new, better way of doing science, by for instance informing the audience about the uncertainty of scientific outcomes, research methods and the mundane motives of scientists. In addition, the organization would like to see new standards of evaluation being formulated. It wants to get rid of quantitative rankings based that give rise to competition and cheating.

SIC argues that journalism as well should play a greater role in science. Journalists should investigate the practice of the scientific work and the mechanisms behind it. Huub Dijstelbloem, one of the initiators of SIC: “Press officers maintain the image of noble scientists and indubitable knowledge, because that is what “sells” best. Journalists go along with it due to a lack of time and money.”

“There is no ready-made solution. We now seem to be the rebels of the system, but I’m also part of it,” recognizes Frank Miedema, Dean and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the University Medical Center in Utrecht. “I cannot change it all at once by myself.” Revolution is a shared responsibility, emphasizes Miedema. “We’re all in this together.”