‘Students and teachers are being screwed.’

During five days in May 1969 Amsterdammer students occupied the Maagdenhuis. They launched a long tradition of student protests in which the Maagdenhuis would serve as background, time and time again. The occupation of ’69 made history because it was successful. Slowly the democratization of the university began, through student and employee representation. All thanks to student activism. Nowadays representation  is an accomplished fact, but activism is dying.

That’s remarkable if you consider how hard students and teachers alike are being screwed. The last twenty years or so college tuition fees have nearly doubled, grants are being lowered, rents are getting higher, loans have barely increased, an academic career is barely accessible, overregulation has won ground and to top it all off budget cuts are a commodity since the 1980s. Not only here in the Netherlands, austerity measurements are common in higher education worldwide. At the same time numbers of students have skyrocketed. A little bit more money for so many more students. Results are bigger classes, higher debts and a fading quality of education.

Directionless Internationalization
Partially due to the underfunding of our educational system by our own government the focus of policymakers has shifted towards business and ‘internationalization’. The influx of internationals is sometimes too big for the cities they come to. Groningen, for example, recruited more international students than there were available houses. This led to the housing of internationals is tent camps modelled after refugee tent camps in Greece. Dear God, is this the twenty-first academia? In Utrecht the problems are smaller in scale, but here too internationalization seems to occur without a comprehensive strategy and is blindly aiming for maximalization. Worst case scenario: housing market discrimination, social isolation resulting in internationals becoming homeless, or have to sleep on a friends couch. This is unacceptable. The taskforce internalization has since admitted we might have to downscale our ambitions.

Perverse incentives
Back to higher education. That has to increase qualitatively, right? There is just no other way after the influx of so many students, that are paying so much. Though luck: the Dutch government announced another budget cut of 183 million euros that has to be put towards ‘expedience’. Read: less autonomous research and more competitive research. This results in more pressure for teachers to publish, to give classes with more students in them, and pushing students to achieve their study goals in three years or so. Efficacy, quick turnover, quick circulation… The university is becoming a McDonalds: you’re in, you’re out and afterwards you feel a bit melancholic.

Luckily activism is making some modest moves: WOinActie (Red Squares) is visible and growing, students of the New University of Utrecht are crying out. Despite these protests Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, proposed an additional budget cut of 19.5 million euros. Moreover, the entire public sector is crumbling, but apparently cutting the taxes on dividend is more important to the Dutch government.

To the streets
When will it finally be enough? When will we take our battle to the streets, or is our generation blind for this sort of things? Competition, pressure to achieve, debt, social media and Netflix are our chains.

Meanwhile, chairwoman of the National Student Union (Lsvb), Geertje Hulzebos, had to step aside because the rest of the board ought her to be “too activist”.  It doesn't get much wackier. If even unions have given up on activism, the university will not make it to the 22nd century. We apparently accept that science is controlled by supply and demand mechanisms. Everything from the content of our studies, number of students, to the loan system and mortgages. 

No longer
When I distributed Red Squares the 3rd of September for WOinActie an older man came to me. He told me an amazing story, as he said: “There is a photo of me in the University Hall (Academiegebouw) on which I am protesting on the exact spot you are protesting right now. I was protesting a raise of tuition fee to 500 guilders (230 euro).” He asked: “How high is the tuition fee right now?”. I told him: “2060 euro, sir.” To which he responded: “My God, we cannot let this happen. No longer! Give me a square.” Even though, obviously, we much-appreciate the support, it is sad to see activism still has to come from 1970’s hippies. Why won’t we or can’t we do it ourselves? Why the actual fuck aren’t we protesting, when we are screwed over time and time again? To not protest is a stain on the legacy of previous generations students and the welfare state they helped built.

Support WOinActie: Mondays, 17.15-18.15, D25 0.02. woinactieutrecht@gmail.com
Support the New University of Utrecht: Thuesdays, 19.30-21.00, Tielezaal. Join the appgroep. 
Support Hulzebos: Sign the petition to bring her back.