De sleutel van de motor

Nieuws | de redactie
21 maart 2012 | Hoe loopt het aan die tafel in het Catshuis? Hoe moet het verder met Rutte-I? Wat is de lijn bij hoger onderwijs en kennisinvesteringen? “U bent niet de motor van de groei, maar wel de sleutel die de motor laat aanspringen,” daagt CDA-onderhandelaar Haersma Buma het HO vast uit.

Op een werkconferentie van Britse en Nederlandse universiteitenin Apeldoorn sprak de fractieleider van de kleinste coalitiepartijtijdens een onderbreking van de onderhandelingen over de begrotingen de reductie van de tekorten en staatsschulden voor de langetermijn. ScienceGuide had al gemeld, dat het CDA daarbij inzet op hervormen,saneren en investeren waar het de kennissector betreft. Juist omgroei en werkgelegenheid zo snel mogelijk te herstellen en waarmogelijk te behouden tijdens de recessie.

Britse toets en Hollandse zorgen

Haersma Buma werkte deze denklijn nader uit in een speechdoorspekt met Britse humor en Nederlandse ernst. Hij begon met degrote beloften van zijn eigen academische loopbaan. Die had immersGroningen gecombineerd met niets minder dan Cambridge. “That was aan excellent start for a great career, but somewhere along the lineit went wrong, because I ended up in politics. Now my life is madeup with making the best of that.

Having experience living and studying on both sides of the NorthSea I feel as much at home with the idea of the ApeldoornConference as with this editions topic: higher education in the twocountries. Or, to be more precise, ‘Higher Education at the heartof growth’.”

Groei in tijden van neergang

In de rede werkte Buma eerst de gedachte en noodzaak van groeien groeiherstel uit.

“Today’s blunt facts show that the Netherlands has a bleakeconomic outlook for 2012 with a set back of 3/4 %. The deficit for2013 is predicted at 4,5 %, where the European target to meet is-3%. Somewhere along April Holland has to present the EuropeanCommission with a thorough plan as to how to meet that goal. Notif, but how.

These facts bring me to the prime minister’s residence in TheHague, where the coalition is negotiating since last week. We meeton a daily basis, the two coalition partners Liberals and ChristianDemocrats, and the supporting right wing Freedom Party. We areassigned with a formidable task, of tightening next year’s budgetwith maximum 1,5%, which is a cut unseen in recent history.

Under the dark clouds of economic decline, in a politicallyunstable atmosphere. The center parties such as Christian-democratsand Labour are in decline, and the political outposts left andright on the rise. Who claims that Britain’s present day politicalsituation is difficult, hasn’t experienced the Dutch. So when Iread “higher education at the heart of growth”, I first ask: whatgrowth? It would seem more accurate to talk of “higher education atthe heart of decline” or at least, “higher education in times ofdecline.”

De zware klappen van de dubbele recessie

Met enkele harde cijfers schetste de fractieleider wat de crisisin 2008 en die van de schulden-en-euro van het voorbije jaar deNederlandse economie aan groei en concrete welvaart heft gekost. Ennog aan het kosten is.

“The banking crisis of 2008 has cost us in the long run about 5%of our average growth. It now seems that last year’s sovereign debtcrisis may cost us another 3%. In 2008 the Dutch governmentsupported banks with billions, it bought ABN-Amro, and the thengovernment agreed on a short term economic stimulus package of €6billion, together with a long term saving package of €5billion.

Sadly enough looking back the stimulus hasn’t worked and thesavings never fully have been filled in. It left us with risingunemployment and a debt that rose from under 50 to over 65 % ofgdp. we do not yet know the effect of the present crisis, but it isevident that the national debt speedy rises again. It is no longeran option spending ourselves out of the crisis.

Financial crises are fiercer than cyclic economic crisis. Theloss of wealth is bigger, up to 8% already, and other than cycliccrises, the gap with the previous growth path is not refilled byextra economic growth after the crisis. Quite the contrary, a longtime period of relatively low growth is likely, as the examples ofJapan and Sweden show.

So, we are 8% poorer, have a bleak economic outlook, have to cutexpenditure as never before, in a political unstable environment.You can imagine, preparing for the conference, I seriouslyconsidered buying a one way ticket out of the country, a stopoverin Manchester and then on to Aruba! By the way, an Island with agrowth of over 10% this year.”

De impact op en van hoger onderwijs

Hoe kan het hoger onderwijs in zo’n penibele situatie het hoofdboven water houden en zelfs krachtig bijdragen aan groei enherstel? Buma gaf aan, dat daarin niet alleen maarvanzelfsprekendheden gelden.

“Here we have had days of lively debate on how to promote highereducation as an engine for growth. And it seems that we end up withan agreement on the fact that universities produce growth. I attendmany conferences.  They can be on all issues. It could beabout multinationals at the heart of growth, or small businesses atthe heart of growth, consumer confidence at the heart of growth, oreven development aid at the heart of growth. 

In present day society universities compete with many playersthat claim a position on being on the heart of growth. So whatmakes universities differ from other institutions when it comes togrowth? It is a fact that investment in education is a long terminvestment. First education, than research, then comes the result,than the investment and at last the benefit. So universities arethe engine. Or even better, they are the key to the carengine.”

Hoger onderwijs als autosleutel

“Not only in economic terms, also in social terms universitiesare the key to the engine. In the sixties they were the key todemocratization , in the eighties they were the key to economicliberalisation and now they are the key to globalization. In thisrespect universities often feel lost, certainly in the Netherlandsin an atmosphere hesitant towards globalization in general,and  immigration in particular. It seems that universities tryto turn the key, but the engine won’t start running. There is’kortsluiting’.

It is my opinion that in the heart of this lies a growing gap insociety between people who experience the benefits of globalizationand the information revolution and those who experience theproblems. The former are the young, the better educated. The latterare the elderly, the lower educated . The ones who take theirchances against those who see threats.

This is not primarily an economic division, but one based onidentity, or its loss. People who are afraid of globalization turnagainst its visible exponents: immigrants, international bankers,employers with bonuses. Until the sixties in this country there wasa long and accepted division along the lines of class and here inthe Netherlands also along the line of religion and’levensovertuiging’. That division has vanished.

But then came this new division, perhaps even more difficult tosurpass than earlier divisions. And universities are situatedsolely on one side of that divide. A large part of society is onthe other side. Politically they are emancipating, finding theirway to new political parties. Here in Holland the Socialist Partyand Freedom Party.

Together we can indulge ourselves here in self-confidence aboutour international approach and open mindedness. But outside theworld looks completely different. Universities are aliens for manythere, far away from everyday life. In Groningen the Campus wasnamed after its original function, Paddepoel, frogs pool, a swampwhere nobody came. Universities have their eyes focused on theoutside world, but they will have to work harder to stay with theirfeet on the ground.”

Combineer wereldwijde blik met hechtebinding

Voor velen inde samenleving blijfven het HO en de kennissectoreen ver van mijn bed show. Dat besef wilde Buma nog eens adresserenin het gezelschap van Britse en Nederlandse academische experts.Ook die ‘Bildungsferne’ burgers moet de politiek en de sectorzelf zien te winnen voor prioriteit aan investeringen inkennis.

“We can find the key to a new society, if we are able to combinethe world scale of globalization with the human scale of society.For universities it is an asset to have  25% of staff fromabroad, to many ordinary people it is another sign of their societybeing taken over by ‘the others’ This morning Rod Coombs put thispicture very clear when he asked ‘the people’s question’: ‘Whateverdid the universities do for us?’

A dangerous question maybe, but for many a daily feeling. AndPauline van der Meer Mohr yesterday was very right, when she saidRotterdam, Delft and Leiden would not merge but closely worktogether. For universities it may sound futile, but for the peopleit is not. The future is not for universities thatinternationalize. The future is for universities that combine theglobal scale with its local community and connections.

A serious task lies ahead for all of us. Arriving in thisbuilding we are warmly welcomed with the sign of  the museumof science and industry. It is my nightmare that in two decadesforeigners are welcomed at the airports of London, Amsterdam andManchester with signs saying: ‘welcome to Europe, the world’sleading Museum of Science and Industry’. It is my dream thatvisitors will be welcomed by signs saying: ‘Welcome to Europe, thekey to the world’s engine’.”


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