Tag Archives: Netherlands

From Tolerance to Detachment: How the Dutch Policy is Failing Asylum Seekers


We continues our series of articles on refugees, this time looking at concrete countries’ cases, starting with the Netherlands.

The Dutch treatment of asylum seekers has come under fire. A German court in Darmstadt decided against the deportation of a Somali asylum seeker to the Netherlands, as the risk of inhumane treatment is too high.

The man saw his application for asylum rejected in the Netherlands, and then went to Germany. There the authorities tried to deport him under the Dublin III Regulation, which states refugees have to apply for asylum in the country in which they first arrive, and should be sent back to that country if they try applying elsewhere. The German court decided against deportation claiming that the Netherlands cannot provide basic necessities such as shelter and food.

Though the ruling is not very common, precedents exist. In 2012, a German court ruled against the deportation of a Palestinian family to Italy due to the poor conditions the refugees experienced, living without shelter or reliable access to food, water and electricity. Also in 2012, recognising the extremely difficult situation of refugees in Greece, German authorities imposed a moratorium on deportations, which have been halted by German courts on several occasions.

Yet, this is the first time such a ruling affects Germany’s neighbouring country, the champion of tolerance and respect for human rights the Netherlands prides itself to be. The State Secretary for Security and Justice Fred Teeven’s lack of action in facing the deteriorating conditions for asylum seekers in the country is hardly worth of this reputation.

The Dutch way

Dutch law states that immigrants seeking asylum should not be denied entry into the country; they can however be subject to lengthy detention while their asylum claims are processed.

Amnesty International describes these detention centers as similar to regular prisons. The organisation claims migrants and (rejected) asylum-seekers are held under a regime described as ‘harsh’ and even ‘inhumane,’ denouncing ineffective procedures for investigating ill treatment, as well as poor access to medical care and to lawyers, and humiliating routine procedures like invasive body searches.

Human rights are fundamentally guaranteed in the Netherlands, but the Dutch history of dealing with asylum seekers remains controversial. Until the 1970s, the Dutch immigration policies were considered lenient. However, when it became clear that the immigrants arriving in the country were going to stay permanently, the country’s migration policies became increasingly restrictive. At the same time, the number of detention centers increased. In 2005 a fire in the Schiphol Airport detention facility that killed several detainees sparked a public debate over the conditions of such structures. In the next few years, reforms were set to improve the asylum seekers’ conditions: main goal was to make detention centres safer, reduce the time of detention, and provide families with children with alternative facilities.

All talk little action

These measures feature prominently on the Justice ministry’s website. Yet, as of today, asylum seekers are still not allowed to work in the Netherlands during the first nine months of their arrival, and they receive no financial support by the government. Following the suicide of the Russian asylum seeker Aleksandr Dolmatov in the beginning of 2013, Teeven promised the immigration service would adopt a more humane approach to asylum seekers: “What happened is extremely sad,” Teeven told Amnesty International in an extensive interview, “If you put someone in unjustified detention and don’t even take care of this person, then you have a big problem.” Despite Teeven’s recognition of the problem, the suicides have not stopped. The latest, in April, was an Armenian asylum seeker with a mental illness who was denied medical support. His lawyer Eva van den Hombergh told the Dutch newspaper NRC that not enough had been done to humanise the asylum seekers’ conditions: “IND [Immigration and Naturalisation Service] simply followed procedures, without any attention to his problems.”

She is not the only one concerned with the current state of asylum seekers’ conditions. Dorine Manson, director of Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, and Eduard Nazarski, director of Amnesty International, wrote a column in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant last April reminding Teeven to keep his promises. They thought little improvement happened despite the positive headline on the ministerial website: “It’s an extra hour of sports activities here and a few hours more spent outside the cell there,” they claimed, adding that the detention centers still effectively work as prisons, the full body searches still occur, and that it will be at least another year before even the smallest changes will be implemented. “Meanwhile detention is the reality for many, including vulnerable groups like children or people with serious physical or mental problems,” they wrote.

Teeven admitted that detention centers could be better, yet according to him, the situation is not that bleak as the activists see it: “I don’t think [detention] is a hotel and it’s not even close to that. It is not a pleasure at all, but we do treat people well in detention.” In the detention centers, refugees are provided with food and shelter while their claim for asylum is being processed.

However, if their claim is rejected and they refuse to go home, they can be evicted from refugee centres and left to fend for themselves. In Summer 2012, asylum seekers from Iraq were denied staying in the Netherlands as the war was officially over and Iraq was considered ‘safe’. With the Dutch authorities denying documents, and Iraq not accepting forced returns, these people were left in a limbo. Many former refugees had nothing to go back to, so they staged protests all over the Netherlands, which ended that December when police in different municipalities forcefully dismantled the camps they had set up. Since then, they have been cared for by an organisation called Vluchtkerk, which survives thanks to the help of people’s donations of blankets, food supplies, and other basic necessities, but it is not a sustainable situation. In October last year, the European Committee of Social Rights ruled that the Netherlands had to provide shelter, food and clothing even to the rejected asylum seekers in the country. However, Teeven has so far refused to do so unless children are involved.

A better policy

According to the International Detention Coalition (IDC), the Dutch treatment of asylum seekers is outdated. They suggest that the Netherlands take an example from Sweden. The latter tries to avoid the detention of asylum seekers, as they are not serving a sentence. According the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, in 2012 only Sweden received almost 44.000 asylum requests, five times more than the Netherlands. However, Sweden detains a much lower number of people, for an average stay of 12 days, whereas in the Netherlands the average in 70 days. The Swedes also have a more “human” regime. In their detention, people have the key to their own room. They are not inspected and are allowed to receive visits daily. They can have their own mobile phone and have internet access. Also, they can order groceries from the local store and are free to move around the gardens at any time. “In Sweden they are very reluctant when it come to detention. The Netherlands and Sweden really differ on this point,”Teeven told Amnesty International, simply accepting the difference between the countries.

Improvements in asylum seekers’ conditions require strong political will and motivation. Teeven downplayed the German ruling to “an isolated case” from which one “could not derive general conclusions about the Dutch System.” The only concession he is willing to consider is unlikely to significantly change the current situation: “Asylum seekers could have unpaid jobs at asylum centers, like mowing the lawn. Then they would make a useful contribution to society, but giving them a work permit would be too excessive,” Teeven said. But as even the European Council’s High Commissioner for Human Rights joined the Dutch detention centers’ critics, Teeven may have to reconsider his priorities before other negative rulings decry the country’s human rights record.

By Sofia Lotto Persio and Lotte Kamphuis

Illustration: Tjebbe van Tijen – https://www.flickr.com/photos/7141213@N04/8656682733

The Dutch are eating ‘Boycott Baguettes’ in response to Russia’s EU boycott: will that be enough?

As the Russian boycott of European goods continues, farmers and consumers across the European Union search for ways to limit their losses. In The Netherlands, the call for financial support from the government goes hand in hand with the search for new destinations for the produced goods.

ABOUT TEN PERCENT of the Dutch agricultural export is destined for Russia and many farmers produce specifically for the Russian market. The consequences of the boycott has hit them the hardest. Two questions occupy the farmers’ minds since the Russian boycott started: what to do with their products, and how will their companies survive?

New recipes, home -grown ingredients
In support of the farmers affected by the boycott, and with the anger over the recent plane crash fresh in their minds, many Dutch consumers offered their help by posting special recipes based on the products boycotted by Russia. The farmers themselves joined forces in a campaign to push consumers to eat more tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. They, too, provide recipes: the ‘boycott baguette’ for example, with green pesto, mozzarella, zucchini, red bell pepper, eggplant and a few leaves of basil.

But as one farmer argued, ‘people might eat more tomatoes for a few days, but will not do so for weeks in a row.’ Furthermore, selling the surplus of tomatoes, pears and other fruits and vegetables boycotted by Russia will cause for a significant devaluation of the products. In order to protect farmers, EU countries established what is called an intervention price. This price serves as a bottom to the market price; if the market price is lower than the intervention price, intervention agencies are obliged to buy the products for that price.

What’s next?
In order to prevent the market prices from dropping to the intervention price, the EU now urges farmers to take their products off the market, by compensating their losses. The surpluses are most likely sent to so-called ‘food banks’: a social service that provides people living off a low income with food-parcels.

On the long term, socio-economic researchers argue that it is time to review the Dutch export of agricultural products. In an analysis in Dutch financial newspaper Financieel Dagblad, researchers Arjen Daane and Krijn Poppe argue that “it should be examined whether in some cases, the export of Dutch knowledge, technology and starting materials (a tactic already adopted by the dairy industry) is more attractive than providing finished goods for the export market.” Furthermore, the call for political intervention proofs to them that the greenhouse sector of the Dutch agricultural market is no longer able to cope with major setbacks.

Such a review of the Dutch greenhouse sector is, of course, no short-term solution for the current surplus. The call for new export markets is relevant, but time-consuming. Dutch pear farmers, who have worked for six years to broaden their horizon, could not have asked for a better timing: they expect to enter the Chinese market before the end of the harvest season.

As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine intensifies, the end of the two-way boycott between the EU and Russia is nowhere in sight. As farmers struggle to get rid of their products, it seems that the surplus creates an unexpected benefit for low-income households: in order to limit the waste of goods removed from the market, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and other products will fill their food packages. But for all other parties involved, the boycott, as much as the Ukraine-Russian conflict as a whole, should end rather sooner than later.

Written by Lisanne Oldekamp
Picture Credit: Pomax


United in grief – watching as MH17 victims return to the Netherlands

YET AGAIN, I find myself sitting in front of the TV, watching another extra broadcast regarding the events in the Ukraine. Currently, Dutch national TV is reporting the return of the first victims to the Netherlands – a return, that is, if the victims were indeed Dutch. A procession of forty cars is carrying the victims from Eindhoven Airport to an army base, where they will be identified.

 Like so many events regarding the MH17 crash, it seems surreal. Forty coffins, forty bodies, still not identified. The highway is empty except for this long line of hearses. People stand on viaducts and alongside the road, throwing flowers, clapping or placing a hand on their hearts, out of respect. The Dutch are, to my knowledge, not known for their emotional expressiveness, yet I am sure I’m not the only one who’s shed a tear or two watching the news this past week.

 On CNN, a reporter explained that given the size of the Dutch population (around 16 million) the impact of ‘MH17’ is relatively similar to that of the events on 9/11. Everybody knows somebody that knows somebody. Last year, I must have had some drinks with one of the victims, as we were part of the same research group. Although I only stayed in touch with a handful members of the group, her smiling face pops up in my memory from time to time. It is heartbreaking to imagine how one minute, she and 297 others were on their way to an amazing holiday, a conference, home or work, and the next, as an eyewitness testified, “people just started falling from the sky”.

The cars make a turn, leaving the highway. They are minutes away from their destination. Hundreds of people have gathered at the roundabout, People are clapping, goose bumps run all over my body. A friend took the same flight one year ago, she told me after another minute of silence last Friday. Shivers ran down my spine and we, two very down-to-earth girls, held each other tight.

Today marks a national day of mourning in The Netherlands, the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962. Where in Brazil, the death of Nelson Mandela was cause for seven days of national mourning, we in the Netherlands are strangers to such a tradition. Announced only yesterday afternoon, people were quick in finding ways to pay their respects. Church bells rang at different moments throughout the day, and as the two airplanes with the first forty victims touched down at Eindhoven Airport, the nation held a minute of silence. At my university, which is pretty much abandoned during the summer holidays, huge flags were hung half-mast. I went to the beach with a friend, but chose a modest, black dress over my many summery, flowery beach dresses. A much shared blog post is titled ‘I don’t know you, but I’m thinking of you’. It expresses the feeling many in this small country share.

On Channel 2, Dutch churches pay their respect in a shared broadcast, called ‘United in Grief’’. Outside the church, flowers portray a plane. Churches in The Netherlands are supposed to become less and less crowded on Sundays, but today even on the square outside the church people have gathered to follow the service on large screens.

In the first few days after the crash, Rutte’s tone of voice was careful, diplomatic. He seemed reluctant to express his frustration at the pro-Russian separatists. He refused to make a statement regarding the role Russia played in delivering the armor that was used to take down the plane, whether this happened on purpose or by accident.

But as investigators were denied access to the scene, and especially when footage surfaced on which victims’ wedding rings were taken off their fingers, the Prime Minister showed his frustration and straight-out anger. He had a ‘sincere’ conversation with President Putin and he found it ‘disgusting’ that the victims’ bodies were robbed as they were laying in the burning sun for three to five days. He used language and emotion one does not expect from a Dutch Prime Minister, commentators and analysts later said. The emotional speech given by Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans on Tuesday, at the UN Security Council in Brussels, made an even larger impact.

During the past week, Rutte has stressed that his first and foremost priority was getting the victims back to their loved ones. In order to do so, he argued, it would be counterproductive to use strong language and start pointing fingers before all the facts were in. Now that most of the bodies are secured, Rutte appears to change his tone. The focus now shifts to the research on the ground, and to the promise of both politicians that the Dutch shall not rest before the final stone is turned and those that are to blame have been put to justice. As talks of an international police force guarding the site of the crash and the researchers take serious forms, it seems the tactics Rutte and Timmermans used are paying off.

The bodies are coming home, now it’s time to start turning those stones. The Dutch people are curious to see whether their Prime Minister will indeed become ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’.

 On Channel 1, the hearses arrive at the military base. A large crowd has gathered and applauds the victims as the hearses pass. Some hold their hands across their mouths, while others have tears rolling down their cheeks. The reporter reminds us that this is only the first group of victims, and that another 258 still wait for their transportation to The Netherlands.

In the Ukraine, only tens of kilometers from the crash site, a rebel group publishes a video in which they triumphantly show that they have brought down a military airplane – triumphant because, after all, “we told you what would happen if you would fly here.” 

After this day of national mourning, I feel like smashing something.



Written by Lisanne Oldekamp  

 Picture credits: fjavisantos,  liveyourlife


Immigration in The Netherlands Fast News



Free joints, election fraud, mass police reports and a Dutch version of the Swiss limitation on immigration: read it all in this week´s Bottom Line by Nele Goutier.
Free joints and fraud: Regional elections in The Netherlands
With the upcoming European elections national identity is a hot topic in The Netherlands. However, this week the media have another focus, because on Wednesday the country voted in municipal elections.The big winners were the social-democrats D66, the leftwing SP and various small local parties. The results are a sign of protest and dissatisfaction with the government. The liberal VDD and the center-left PvdA, leading government parties, both lost heavily, writes the newspaper NRC.All the stops were pulled out to increase the turnout that was 54 per cent in 2010. Despite local and national politicians working day and night, the turnout this year was only 53 per cent.Het Algemeen Dagblad wrote already before the elections started that people are unfamiliar with local politicians. 50 per cent of the citizens cannot name any candidates; among the people under 35 this figure rises to 60 per cent. Moreover, De Volkskrant writes that those entitled to vote are more likely to get influenced by the media than by political campaigns, despite sometimes controversial campaigns, like the distribution of free joints in the streets of the Dutch capital city by the local party Red Amsterdam.While the political leaders held their final debates last week, the Dutch media reported about concerns of election fraud. There are signs that in a growing number of towns and cities, political parties have been asking people to donate them their ballot papers. Such fraud has been reported to the police in among others Roermond,  Soest and Alphen aan de Rijn. The Public Prosecutor Service investigates the cases, but convincing proof enabling conviction is unlikely, writes De Volkskrant.A statement made by Geert Wilders, leader of the right wing party Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom) is more likely to lead to conviction. The politician provoked a lot of controversy when he announced that people should vote for him if they wanted a city with fewer charges and less Moroccans, writes NOS. “The less Moroccans, the better”, stated Wilders.

Roel Wijnants

Roel Wijnants

On the day of the elections he asked his voters whether they would like to have more or less Moroccans in the country. The crowd replied to by shouting ´less´ thirteen times and Wilders promised to take care of that. Fouad Sidali, member of the center left Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), responded by comparing Wilders to Adolf Hitler.

Thousands of people have been said to have complained about Wilders´ statements, which they consider discriminatory, to the police. Opponents of the politician have started a Facebook group page ´Ik doe aangifte tegen Wilders´ (´I report Wilders´), where people share pictures of their reports. The page has been liked by over 40,000 people. On Twitter, people with foreign backgrounds have posted selfies with their Dutch passport and ´#bornhere´.

Pieter Klein, chief editor of one of the biggest news broadcasting agency´s in The Netherlands, RTL Nieuws, publicly criticized Wilders in an open letter under the title ´Geert, ga je schamen’ (´Geert, be ashamed of yourself´). NRC, one of the biggest national news papers, also criticised Wilders´ actions. However, Wilders announced that he does not see any reason to apologize, writes NRC.

While the Public Prosecution Service investigates the case, the losing government party’s try to accept their losses and prepare for the European elections in May, and the winning parties have started negotiations about the formation of local councils.

Swiss migration referendum going Dutch?
Last week the Swiss referendum on migration shook up the continent. A similar proposal to limit immigration was the subject of debate last week in The Netherlands, where Prime-minister Mark Rutte’s party the VVD proposed a law to limit the immigration of underprivileged Dutch-Antilleans, writes Elsevier.

Inhabitants from the Caribbean islands’ Aruba, Sint-Maarten and Curaçao – part of the Dutch kingdom – would, according to the proposal, need a license if they want to establish themselves in the Netherlands for longer than six months. Such a license would only by granted to people that are able to independently provide their own income or have a family member that does. Requests could be rejected if the applicant is considered a severe threat to public order.

Opposition parties expressed heavy criticism and said the proposal, known as the Bosman Law, was in conflict with the prohibition of racial discrimination, writes De Telegraaf. They believe that the law would result in an unequal treatment of people who are supposed to have the same rights, of which freedom of movement is considered one the most important ones.

Jesus E. Vasquez

Jesus E. Vasquez

The opposition says that some Antilleans can be criticised: they are more likely to be dependent on social security and are over-represented in criminal records. However, limiting immigration would not be a solution to such problems, as is argued by the opponents of the Bosman Law; it would only be a replacement of the problem. They argue that the government should improve employment and education on the islands instead.

The Islands reacted angrily to the proposal, mostly because it was agreed in 2011 that no limitations would be made on the freedom of moment within the Dutch Kingdom. The initiating party, the VVD, argues that the islands have the same policy, that requires Dutch people to meet certain criteria before they are allowed to settle down on one of the islands.

So far it appears there is not enough support for the law to get through, but several parties have expressed their willingness to reconsider the proposal if it will be fundamentally adjusted to their critics.

Students of Europe: Has winter passed?

*UPDATE* With student protests continuing to flare up some 5 months on, Pandeia revisits its Special Report into the Student Protest movement as a result of education cuts.

Europe is in crisis – a fact that cannot have escaped anyone’s attention. The financial problems of the past years have forced governments to adopt austerity measures in many different areas. Major cut-backs have been made on education budgets, which has lead to student protests all over Europe.

University life in Athens has frozen. Teaching, research and clinical work have come to a standstill in two of Greece’s biggest universities as administrative staff strike against severe cuts made to the higher education budget. Most of the facilities have been occupied by the students as they express their solidarity, while the senate of the University of Athens (UoA) resigned last week. The consequences of this radical 3 month long action at  UoA alone  affect 65.682 students, 1.974 professors, 40 departments, 8 libraries, 66 clinics, 174 laboratories and 18 museums.

The situation in Greece is exceptional, but not surprising when examining the rest of Europe. Studying is, in terms of finance, becoming a more risky business in the UK as well. The UK coalition government has been steadily moving toward marketisation of higher education over the past few years.

The annual tuition fee was raised to £9000 in 2010, and calls are being made to raise fees even further to £16,000. The marketisation of higher education leads to a prioritisation of budget resources to the more profitable academic subjects. Business, technology and medicine are prioritised while Humanities and Arts subjects have been neglected. Profitability rather than educational excellence dominates UK governmental policy.

The raising of tuition fees in Spain and Ireland has had similar effects. According to the Spanish student Union, the recent reforms in Spain promote inequality of access to education favoring the upper class.

University shutdown

The situation in Greece is  precarious. Because of the shut-down, Greek graduate students cannot obtain the required certificates in order to study abroad, and are prevented from going on already arranged and paid exchange programs. The University of Athens students are forced to put their studies on pause as long as the conflict continues.

Despite this, the situation is not as severe in all European countries. In the Netherlands and Denmark students still receive a monthly scholarship. However the financial crisis has led to deterioration in student conditions.  In Denmark students are protesting and signing petitions against a reform that was passed before this summer. The reform, named “The Study Process Reform”, has been dubbed by Danish students as a clever euphemism for a measure that significantly impairs their conditions. The overall aim is to rush students through their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as quickly as possible. The Universities are obligated to take measures that will make students finish their degree on average 4.3 months faster.

Similar changes are seen in Dutch education policy. Lengthy studying is discouraged, which disables students to prolong their studies for internships, or enroll in additional Masters degrees.  There have been political proposals to create a ‘lending system’ instead of the free monthly scholarships. If this lending system is implemented, researchers estimate 7500 students will choose not to continue their studies after secondary school.

On the other side of the North Sea, grants have been completely cut for Master’s students. According to Irish graduate student David Fleming (28) this forces many young people to look for opportunities abroad:

“I am one of them. Unless things change, less and less people will be able to afford to attend university and will either be stuck on unemployment benefits or will choose to leave the country.”

Students to court

David is one among many students who choose to move to another country for their studies. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the number of students leaving home to pursue tertiary education programmes abroad has risen sharply in recent years. In 2010, the number of internationally mobile tertiary students grew from 2 million in 2000 until to  3.6 million today.

This trend is felt first hand in Austria. Austrian universities do not have entrance limits depending on average grades. Unrestricted access to higher education has made Austria a favoured destination for educational migration, mostly by students from Germany who do not have a sufficient grade point average for German universities. In Austrian media, this development is sometimes referred to as “Deutschenschwemme”, meaning “German flood”.

According to Austrian student Johannes Pertra (25) this is a burden on the Austrian economy:

“The problem is not one of racism or xenophobia, but rather that German students tend to go back home to look for jobs, leaving the Austrian state with nothing.”

Meanwhile, the Austrian universities are filled to the brim,  affecting the performance of attending students. Recently an Austrian student successfully sued the Austrian state by arguing that his university did not provide him with conditions that allowed him to get his degree within the minimum time. He argued that overcrowded courses and the fight to sit exams forced him to prolong his studies.

The student won the case, which might create problems for the Austrian state. “If other students start suing the state for the exact same reasons and they all lawfully get money from the state, it will lead to chaos”, Johannes says.

Even countries with considerably good student conditions are suffering in these wintry days of educational reforms.  The question is how favoured countries will cope with the flood of student migration. The situation in Austria is an example of how educational systems may suffer. As long as the conditions for students are not improving, students are likely to look for lower cost and better quality abroad putting countries with relatively better conditions under pressure.

The austerity measures haven’t just been contained to the continent. The UK’s education system has felt the force of the country’s economic downturn, and its almost unanimously the students who are paying for it. The BBC recently reported that outstanding student loan debt will rise to £200 billion in the next 30 years and that around fifty percent of students are ‘not expected’ to repay the loan, a turn of events that mimic those across the Atlantic. With the current system being deemed ‘unsustainable’, there is a large measure of uncertainty over the future of the UK’s higher education system. This uncertainly has only been compounded by the recent selling off of £900 million worth of student debt by the Conservative government for the ‘bargain’ price of £160 million. The reality is, of a system  developing whereby nobody gains and everybody loses.

Winter hasn’t left

In Kosovo in February, students clashed with police during protests against the University of Pristina. The Head of the University had been found to have falsified research in order to gain credentials crucially needed for extra-funding. The protests raged in the streets for a number of days, as students claimed the budget cuts had left the university in a criminal state.


While in Croatia, the legacy of the Autumn of 2009 is still being felt, where for 10 days the universities were taken over and ran by the students. In 2014, students in Zagreb held a rally protesting against further cuts that would mean some courses would have to close.

As the nights get lighter and the days longer, it seems winter has passed. However for Europe’s education system, the question is, when will it see the effects?

By Nele Goutier and Anja Christoffersen

Additional Reporting by Jamie Timson

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.”