“Nationale solidariteit – studentenstrijd” is the motto that best describes the essence of the event that on Wednesday, June 13th, brought together student activists from all over the country in a panel discussion organised by DAG.
By Tommaso Isolabella
But let us take a step back to one week ago, when a large crowd of students and teachers marched through the streets of Amsterdam. The casus belli for the March for Education was to be found in the alarming budget cuts that the Faculty of Arts in Amsterdam has seen, but these are hardly the only problems that affect Dutch universities. The academic community protested against what is commonly referred to as the neoliberalisation of academia – a phenomenon that is rising now more than ever. The protest in Amsterdam was joined by hundreds; teachers and students from many cities in the Netherlands marched side by side and together chanted their stand: a democratic university is possible, and we know how to make it!
From this and other initiatives it became clear that now, fifty years after 1968, a new wave of protest is arising in the Netherlands. Much like DAG, other student movements in the country are rallying up their ranks, and when it comes to country-wide action, one question comes up naturally: “What is to be done?”
A national movement
A first step to answer this question is for these movements to come together and find common points, discuss strategies and organise. For this reason DAG organised a panel discussion, which following up to the March for Education set the course of action for the months to come. The whole audience took active part in the discussion, kick-started by Peppe from Changing Perspectives, Nijmegen, Aindriu from Zeg Nee in Utrecht, Elmar from Humanities Rally and New University in Amsterdam and Meike from DAG.
“Radboud University is adopting a shady policy of fake compliance and interest,” says Peppe. “Students are told that the extreme marketisation of education is for their own sake, that it’ll help their careers. That is why in Nijmegen we are rethinking strategies of occupation.”
In Utrecht a weekly meeting is being held that students and teachers are encouraged to attend. Rallying people and increasing awareness are primary concerns for all the movements that participated in the panel. “We are in it all together, teachers and students, even more so those who fail to realise it,” Aindriu points out. The panelists and the audience agree on the fact that growing larger should be the primary goal of student movements, especially in this critical phase.
Out of the four movements in the panel, DAG is the only one which is also represented in the University Council. Humanities Rally quit the Council last year, while the movements in Nijmegen and Utrecht are only organising outside the institutions; institutions which often fail to open up a dialogue with the respective academic communities.
Along these lines, Elmar stresses Humanities Rally’s disillusion to work with the university. Decolonisation, one of the key problems that activists in Amsterdam are facing, was patched up by the UvA by appointing a Diversity officer. “Sadly this was only a strategic move by the University Board, not an effective one,” Elmar states. This is a common strategy at the RUG too: symbolic solutions are devised by the Board which turn out to be an ineffective pretence of interest. “While having a representation in the University Council can be useful when it comes to transparency, its value is instrumental and organisation outside of it is crucial,” Meike says.
We, the members of the different student movements, realised that this organisation can not happen but in one way: a country-wide network of students and teachers that collaborate to raise awareness and change the university. The problems we face affect the whole country, so the whole country must stand united and raise its voice.
Teachers and staff
The involvement of teachers is of capital importance; critical groups of lecturers and researchers, such as ReThink RUG and their counterparts in other cities, have been formed and are growing; and it is together with teachers that students are setting up the next step in the process. WOinactie, an action group concerned with the insane increase in workload for academic staff, is planning a protest in September; it will see a heavy participation by students, since “teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”
The first step towards a united national student movement has been taken; it is important, now, not to let the enthusiasm die during the summer, and find each other standing side by side to fight together for a new paradigm of education.