Dutch students rebel over university's corporate turn

Eviction of students occupying Amsterdam university highlights fight against commercialisation of higher education.

    Dutch students rebel over university's corporate turn
    Students at the University of Amsterdam occupy its administration centre in February [EPA]

    Students forcefully evicted by police from a university building in Amsterdam are the vanguard of a growing protest movement in Europe resisting what they say is the commercialisation of higher education.

    A police raid on the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in April may have ended the 45-day long occupation of the Maagdenhuis building by student group De Nieuwe Universiteit (The New University, DNU), but its message has been echoed elsewhere, including in Denmark and the United Kingdom.

    The Dutch student protests claimed one high-profile victim, Louise Gunning, head of the UvA executive board, who resigned after the students' eviction. 

    "It was all very chaotic and frightening," said media studies student Judith, 27, who asked that her surname name not be used for fear of university reprisals. She had slept at the Maagdenhuis building - which houses the UvA's executive board - for seven weeks with 50 other students before the police arrived.

    "As soon as I got separated from the group, the police grabbed me and put me in their car," said Judith, who was detained for a day.

    Officers evicted the students after a 45-day occupation [Vera Duivenvoorden]

    Forceful eviction

    Police officers gathered outside the building on April 11, and then evicted the students as television crews and onlookers watched. Eleven students were arrested and one police officer was injured in the scuffles.

    Protesters chanted: "Occupy, deplore, I don't want this board any more," and "Go away with your commercialisation."

    "Our dissatisfaction stems from the ongoing financialisation and managerialism that is increasingly coming to dominate academic life," said a DNU member on condition of anonymity, also fearing retribution.

    Specific complaints are the lack of democracy in how the university is governed, budget cuts aimed at humanities, worsening work conditions for temporary staff, and risky property speculation by the university's board, the DNU member said.

    Judith said she doesn't want to live in a world in which "financial interests carry more value than subjects like philosophy and languages that teach a deeper understanding".

    The university justified its decision to call in the police saying it feared an outbreak of violence, and highlighted the DNU's dismissal of a negotiated settlement.

    "A combination of [violent] incidents, the fear that it could get out of hand ... left us no other choice," an UvA spokesperson told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity. "It is the best for everyone to look forward and work together on ideas for a more democratic university."

    A student sleeping in the university's administrative centre, Maagdenhuis, in Amsterdam [EPA]

    International flavour

    The fervour of the DNU has also been evidenced at other universities where students are speaking out against managerial practices and reforms.

    About 500 supporters of Et andet universitet, a Danish student group, are occupying buildings at three different universities to protest what they say is a continuous government assault on higher education.

    Bodil, a member of the movement, told Al Jazeera: "The reforms recently implemented are designed to serve corporate interests instead of society as a whole, and as such [are] just the latest step towards abolishing the university tradition of independent research and the belief that knowledge possesses a value in itself.

    "The university system as it is now could not possibly meet our demands as the structure is undemocratic at its very core, with corporate representatives on the board while students and staff are deprived of any real influence," said Bodil, who also gave only one name for publication.

    In March, students at the London School of Economics calling themselves the "Free University of London" barricaded themselves in a building in protest at what they called "the marketisation" of higher education.

    Students in London march against university funding cuts [Pacific Press]

    Mixed reaction

    The Amsterdam protests generated a mixed reaction with some criticising the students' actions.

    Columnist Bastiaan Bommeljé wrote in the newspaper NRC that, "The demolition of higher education in the Netherlands is not only the fault of derailed university officials, but also students themselves, who are the slowest, least studious, most calculating and, according to a recent report from the education inspectorate, least motivated among all OECD countries."

    It was criticism that made Judith laugh. She responded that working 20 hours a day for DNU's ideals cannot be evidence of laziness.

    "At university you are taught to think critically - they should actually be happy that we are putting this philosophy into practice," she said. 

    UvA authorities insisted they are committed to continuing talks with student protesters and concerned staff.

    "The past couple of months marked the beginning of a more democratic and reconstituted university," the UvA spokesperson told Al Jazeera. "We'll use the upcoming year for further development."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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