Column: Malone

Merger skepticism? What do they know?

In last week’s issue of Delta, it was reported in the News in Brief section that the Dutch Parliament is 'very critical' about the proposed merger of the Leiden, Delft, and Rotterdam universities. The socialists (SP) and social-democrats (PvdA) have already rejected the proposed plan. The liberals (PVV) think a merger is unnecessary, and the Freedom Party (PVV) frets about loss of student choice, while the Christian Democrats (CDA) have opaquely stated that decentralized education fits the current zeitgeist (so it’s not that people prefer it, but that the CDA imagines that people prefer it). I have news for the members of parliament: these three university campuses are already effectively merged, at least for some programs. 
  The Life Sciences and Technology, bioinformatics, and Industrial Ecology programs are all collaborative between Leiden and TU Delft, and the industrial ecology program used to include Rotterdam as well. Unfortunately, Rotterdam dropped out of the industrial ecology alliance, but one reason for this could be that coordination between the universities is terrible. Actually, non-existent would be a better description. As an industrial ecology student, I can tell you that getting registered at both campuses, getting grades and classes posted to both intranet systems, or getting residency permits renewed all require lots of travel between the respective campuses, unanswered emails, and frantic phone calls. In fact, there is so much confusion every time I ask an administrator about my program that I feel like industrial ecology is some strange relative the universities didn’t know they had. 
  This is a shame, because interdisciplinary programs like the ones mentioned above offer new opportunities for practical application and research, and actually increase student choice (once again, the PVV reaches a bizarre conclusion, but at least this time they’re not being bigoted). 
  I recently finished an internship at Royal DSM, a company with two main groups of businesses: life sciences and material sciences. But as the use of biomass for materials like engineering plastics increases, DSM increasingly finds the lines between these two groups to be arbitrary and blurred. This is just one example of where interdisciplinary applications are important.
  The question is not whether the campuses should be merged, because they already are in a functional sense. Instead, the government should be inquiring about the best way such a merger should proceed: should there be a strong central authority? Or should the campuses retain maximum autonomy? What do students actually want? What can be learned from current joint programs? Of course, I don’t expect the Dutch government to act intelligently here – this is the same government that recently rescinded €25 million for a new architecture building that had been awarded to the TU Delft, because the university decided that retrofitting an old building was a better idea. The money could only be used for a normaal cursief>new building, which is ridiculous – especially since retrofitting an old building should be more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. I guess the TU shouldn’t even bother asking for money to renovate the Civil Engineering and Geosciences building, which is also a pressing need. Maybe we should burn it down instead? Apparently that’s preferable to this government. That being the case, I’m not sure why anyone should listen to the government’s opinion on the merging of Leiden, Delft, and Rotterdam universities.In last week’s issue of Delta, it was reported in the News in Brief section that the Dutch Parliament is 'very critical' about the proposed merger of the Leiden, Delft, and Rotterdam universities. The socialists (SP) and social-democrats (PvdA) have already rejected the proposed plan. The liberals (PVV) think a merger is unnecessary, and the Freedom Party (PVV) frets about loss of student choice, while the Christian Democrats (CDA) have opaquely stated that decentralized education fits the current zeitgeist (so it’s not that people prefer it, but that the CDA imagines that people prefer it). I have news for the members of parliament: these three university campuses are already effectively merged, at least for some programs.

The Life Sciences and Technology, bioinformatics, and Industrial Ecology programs are all collaborative between Leiden and TU Delft, and the industrial ecology program used to include Rotterdam as well. Unfortunately, Rotterdam dropped out of the industrial ecology alliance, but one reason for this could be that coordination between the universities is terrible. Actually, non-existent would be a better description. As an industrial ecology student, I can tell you that getting registered at both campuses, getting grades and classes posted to both intranet systems, or getting residency permits renewed all require lots of travel between the respective campuses, unanswered emails, and frantic phone calls. In fact, there is so much confusion every time I ask an administrator about my program that I feel like industrial ecology is some strange relative the universities didn’t know they had.

This is a shame, because interdisciplinary programs like the ones mentioned above offer new opportunities for practical application and research, and actually increase student choice (once again, the PVV reaches a bizarre conclusion, but at least this time they’re not being bigoted).
I recently finished an internship at Royal DSM, a company with two main groups of businesses: life sciences and material sciences. But as the use of biomass for materials like engineering plastics increases, DSM increasingly finds the lines between these two groups to be arbitrary and blurred. This is just one example of where interdisciplinary applications are important.

The question is not whether the campuses should be merged, because they already are in a functional sense. Instead, the government should be inquiring about the best way such a merger should proceed: should there be a strong central authority? Or should the campuses retain maximum autonomy? What do students actually want? What can be learned from current joint programs? Of course, I don’t expect the Dutch government to act intelligently here – this is the same government that recently rescinded €25 million for a new architecture building that had been awarded to the TU Delft, because the university decided that retrofitting an old building was a better idea. The money could only be used for a normaal cursief>new building, which is ridiculous – especially since retrofitting an old building should be more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly. I guess the TU shouldn’t even bother asking for money to renovate the Civil Engineering and Geosciences building, which is also a pressing need. Maybe we should burn it down instead? Apparently that’s preferable to this government. That being the case, I’m not sure why anyone should listen to the government’s opinion on the merging of Leiden, Delft, and Rotterdam universities.