UU's complete list is online

Universities offer greater transparency on professors’ ancillary positions

Meet the professor 2022, hoogleraren, foto DUB
UU Professors ready to go on Meet the Professor 2022. Photo: DUB

It is well known that some professors receive funding from industry or government organisations. This information can be extremely relevant: imagine a professor who is funded by the tobacco industry publishing studies on lung diseases, for example. However, universities have been criticised for years because their registers were not sufficiently transparent.

Back in 2007, then-education minister Ronald Plasterk (PvdA) called for a national register, but the plan did not materialise in the end. The fourteen universities objected to the idea over worries that such a register would constitute an invasion of professors’ privacy. They did agree to publish details of professors’ ancillary positions on their respective websites, though. But their registers have been far from complete..

Conflict of interest
In 2022, the Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf decided to do something about it. Reports in media outlets such as De VolkskrantFolia and Nieuwsuur revealed that many professors of tax law and fiscal economics were also holding positions that could lead to a conflict of interest, yet none of them were listed in the university registers. Dijkgraaf then renewed calls to establish a single national register. “What we need is a website where you can see what other jobs a professor or researcher has. It's that simple.” 

Despite Dijkgraaf’s insistence, the fourteen universities took a different route: they commissioned a feasibility study, which found that having separate registries for each university, albeit with the same structure, would be “the best viable option”. 

A national register would still raise privacy concerns due to the lack of a legal basis. That's why universities have chosen to standardise and improve their own registers, granting online access to them through UNL.

UU's list of professors' ancillary activities has been online since last week. It is going to be updated every three months. Professors are also obliged to mention all ancillary activities on their profile page on UU's website – a page they are responsible for, according to the university.

A step forward
Despite the lack of a central register, Dijkgraaf qualifies the move as a step forward. “It can be useful for professors to collaborate with businesses and civil society organisations. It can also enhance education. But these links have to be clear for all to see.”

The new registers list the professors' names, their faculty and the additional positions they occupy. Visitors can see if an academic also acts as an advisor to a company or organisation, for example. However, the information provided still has its shortcomings: in some cases, ancillary positions are simply listed as "other", leaving the professor’s role open to interpretation.