The laborious transition to open access

Too much work, too little time

The laborious transition to open access

Starting on January 1, 2021, people who want funding for their academic research have to publish their results open access. But that’s proving difficult. ‘There are no concrete policies in place.’
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Daan Ornée, a third-year PhD candidate of psychiatry, no longer publishes anything closed access. ‘Last year, I made the choice that if a magazine doesn’t publish things open access, I won’t publish with them. But I think I’m an exception’, says the young scientist. 

Ornée is one of the open access ambassadors at the university. He started this summer. There are ambassadors at every faculty, providing quick access for academics with questions. This is useful, as both European and Dutch financiers demand that all research results fully or partially funded by public money are published OA starting January 1, 2021. 

According to the University Library’s latest numbers, 54 percent of Groningen publications from 2019 were published open access. ‘We’ve been improving every year, and this is another step in the right direction’, says Peter van Laarhoven with the UB. But they haven’t made it to 100 percent just yet. 

The basics

Let’s quickly explain the basics: Publishing open access simply means that scientific articles should be freely accessible to everyone who wants to read them. This in contrast to closed access (CA), where readers need a subscription to the journal in order to read an article. 

‘At the library, we’ve been working on open access for approximately twenty-five years’, Van Laarhoven explains. ‘At first it was just for the library itself, as we kept running into the ever increasing subscriptions for scientific journals.’ 

We kept running into the ever increasing subscriptions for scientific journals.

The articles in these journals had been written by the university’s own scientists. These journals depend on scientists acting as editors and peer review the articles, which is all unpaid work. 

The UB’s budget couldn’t keep up with the ever-increasing subscription costs. Large publishers’ revenue models have become a problem not just in Groningen, but for the entire academic community. If they want to continue to subscribe to the best journals, they have to let other journals go. ‘It’s a vicious cycle, but open access looked like it would be able to break that cycle’, says Van Laarhoven. 

Plan S

If publishing companies no longer make money off subscription, they need another source of income. The transition to OA means that scientists now have to pay to publish their articles. These costs have been labelled Article Processing Costs (APC). ‘Those are the costs the journals estimate they incur when they publish a full article’, says Van Laarhoven. 

In 2018, Plan S was introduced as an impetus to continue the OA model. The initiative from the European Committee, called cOAlition S, stipulated that all publications that were fully or partially funded by public money had to be freely accessible to anyone starting in 2020. 

The first time you’re publishing OA you have to figure a lot of things out

The Associations of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) acted as an intermediary for deals with big scientific publishers like Springer and, more recently, Elsevier, to ensure that the scientists themselves wouldn’t fall victim financially to the transition. 

Nevertheless, the change has been difficult. Publishers have had to adjust their revenue models, and scientists have had to get used to the new way of publishing. In order to help them out, the OA deadline has been moved to January 1, 2021. 

Obstacle

The biggest obstacle facing the RUG scientists in the OA transition is simply a matter of experience, says Vera Heininga, post-doc and open access ambassador at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. ‘The first time you’re publishing OA you have to figure a lot of things out. Which magazines are OA and which ones aren’t? Which magazines does the university have deals with. Where can I get a potential discount on APCs? It’s not that difficult, but it just takes time.’

Unfortunately, scientists tend to have very little time. ‘In publishing an article, we’re mainly focused on which journal to publish in. Whether or not to make it OA comes second to that’, says Ornée. 

What do you do if the journal you want to publish doesn’t do OA ?

And don’t forget the impact of the journal. ‘What do you do if the journal you want to publish doesn’t do OA, or doesn’t have a contract with the universities?’

The UB provides plenty of information on OA, like a specific online page. It has an overview of all the information you might need, as well as the OA Journal Browser, a database of journals the UB currently has contracts with. ‘I think the ambassadors are also a step in the right direction’, says Heininga. ‘It makes the information much more accessible to the researchers.’

Stimulus

If we really want to launch OA, researchers should be stimulated to work OA. According to Ornée, the key is in rewarding people. He says there’s a simple solution to reward young researchers. 

‘The Graduate Schools are setting excellency criteria’, says Ornée. ‘Like publishing a fixed number of articles in a top-ten journal or publishing something within a deadline. For each criterion you meet, you get two hundred euros that you can use to publish. It would be easy to add OA publications as a criterion.’

Heininga also thinks this would be a good idea. ‘That would end once you finish your PhD though, since there is no financial stimulus once you’re a post-doc.’ This would therefore fail to convince the experienced scientists. ‘I think there’s a lack of concrete policies. People at the university know how important it is, but it’s not structurally embedded properly. You have to stimulate people if you want to make that intrinsic change.’ 

Petition for fired professor: ‘RUG’s attitude in NOHA case is shocking’

Petition for Joost Herman

‘RUG’s attitude in NOHA case is shocking’

More than 250 NOHA students and RUG employees are defending fired professor Joost Herman in a petition: ‘Exceptionally drastic measures have been taken.’
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Both former rector magnificus Frans Zwarts and former rector Doeko Bosscher support the petition, which was disseminated on Monday. ‘I feel the reporting on Joost has been extremely one-sided’, Zwarts explains. 

‘It’s complicated, because as former rector I shouldn’t be meddling in administrative affairs. But what’s happening to this family is just terrible. They’ve been given a social death penalty’, he continues. ‘I’ve known Joost for a long time, and he’s done so much for the university with the NOHA programme. No one will interfere with the case in any substantial way, because that’s a case for the judge. But I refuse to believe that he’s a criminal.’

Dismissal

Professor Joost Herman was fired by the RUG in January of this year and accused of fraud and falsification of documents. The university also started a civil procedure against Herman, demanding he pay the institute nearly 1.2 million euros.

Herman is alleged to have used Stichting NOHA Groningen (SNG) to gain access to European subsidies that were intended to go to the Groningen NOHA programme. Allegedly, SNG was set up outside of the RUG’s knowledge, with the funds being used outside the RUG’s purview. The RUG says this enabled Herman to expense ‘large amounts’ of money and give this to other employees and third parties. 

Character assassination

‘We’re not denying that he did anything wrong, but this is character assassination’, says professor Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, who helped set up the petition. He and other (former) colleagues have access to the confidential accountant report the RUG based its decisions on, as well as other documents, such as the supplementary appeal to the cantonal judge.

The petition was based in part on these documents. ‘We find your attitude in the dismissal case and the terms you use simply shocking’, the (former) colleagues write to the board of directors at the RUG. ‘We read (…) demeaning discrediting of a colleague, namely lack of ‘integrity’ and ‘moral awareness’. It is plainly stated that professor Herman “violated every conceivable standard expected of a good employee”.  (…) We, members of the academic community, emphatically disagree with the severity of your reproaches and your use of language.’

Mud-slinging 

‘The papers the RUG has submitted to the court are full of unabashed mud-slinging’, says Boele van Hensbroek. ‘I don’t understand how an institute like the university can do something like this.’ For a while, he feared the petition’s words were too harsh. ‘But I guess they aren’t, because even people of stature agree that our university shouldn’t be acting this way.’

The petitions by former employees and students emphasise these words. Several versions of the petition have gone up online. The petition for (former) employees is available in both Dutch and English. Another petition was set up by (former) students of the NOHA programme. 

The first court case against Joost Herman will come up in court this Thursday, when the Groningen judge will look at his dismissal.

Police warns: cycling students are a danger on the road

Police patrol Zernike route

Cycling students are a danger on the road

They drive against traffic, ignore red lights, or look at their phone while cycling. Students on the Zernike route pose a danger, and the Groningen police is warning people.

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The police have particularly observed dangerous incidents at the Zonnelaan and Paddepoelsterweg. ‘Whenever we patrol there, we write at least seven or eight tickets in an hour’, says senior police officer Jean Paul Yska. 

After the neighbourhood officer sent out an alert about the number of infractions, the police patrol the area almost daily. ‘The intersection at the Eikenlaan in the direction of the crematorium is infamous, but people also mess up at the lighted intersections at the Zonnelaan’, Yska explains. ‘We’re monitoring the entire area.’

The police patrol the area at any moment of the day. Sometimes they’re in uniform, sometimes they’re in plain clothes. The students they stop for going against traffic, ignoring the traffic lights, or holding their phones, immediately get a fine for 95 euros. ‘We don’t give out warnings anymore. We used cut people some slack, but it didn’t help’, says Yska.

Phone

Many students are fined for holding their phones. ‘Even if they’re just holding it because they don’t have pockets. The moment you start biking, you’re punishable by law’, says Yska.  

The people who drive through red or who go against traffic often turn out to be international students, according to Yska. ‘Students from for example China have no concept of the rules here. The university might help out by informing these students. I think they could definitely play a role here.’

Information

Spokesperson Jorien Bakker says the university isn’t responsible for teaching students about traffic rules, but they do provide information. ‘We have stands for Veilig Verkeer Nederland (VVN) and the police at the information market during the KEI week’, she explains. ‘We also point out the English-language VVN flyers.’ 

One of the latest student blogs at the university also tackled cycling, says Bakker. ‘It also addressed the traffic rules. And during the Welcoming Festival, we set up a cycling track at the Oosterpoort courtyard.’

Bakker would love it if the VVN, the police, and the city collaborated on informing internationals. Yska thinks social control plays a large role. ‘Many students bike in groups, with their friends. They knowingly take risks. It would be good if they correct each other.’ 

NOHA Brussels misses out on 500K

EU suspends subsidies

NOHA Brussels misses out on 500K

Pending the resolution of the NOHA case, the European Committee has suspended subsidies to the NOHA consortium. NOHA Brussels will claim the 520,000 euros in subsidies from Joost Herman.
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This according to a summons NOHA Brussels served to Herman, which UKrant has access to. The amount is part of a larger claim totalling 1.9 million euros. 

The NOHA consortium receives annual European funds from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), as part of the European Committee. 

After the irregularities at NOHA Groningen came to light, ECHO suspended the remaining payments of 120,000 euros for 2018. On top of that, they also forewent signing off on the subsidy for 2019, at the sum of 400,000 euros.

NOHA 

NOHA is an international partnership of universities that focuses on improving humanitarian aid. The RUG is part of this consortium and is one of eight universities offering the International Humanitarian Action master programme.

In March 2019, the coordinating office of NOHA Brussels found irregularities in payments to the RUG. Rather than being paid directly to the university, subsidy funds were being paid to Stichting NOHA Groningen. 

This foundation was set up by professor Joost Herman, among others. Herman was responsible for the programme in Groningen between 2005 and 2014, served as its financial director, and was made director of NOHA Brussels in 2014. After the RUG commissioned an external investigation into the funds, Herman was fired in January.

Claims

NOHA Brussels will be claiming 1.4 million euros that were intended for the RUG but ended up in the bank account of Stichting NOHA. They’re demanding Herman pay them the money. 

The RUG is also claiming money from Herman; a summons the university served to the fired professor says it wants approximately 1.2 million euros from him.

It’s not yet been determined when the case will appear before the court.

RUG could have known about Stichting NOHA Groningen

RUG could have known about Stichting NOHA Groningen

The RUG could have known about the existence of Stichting NOHA Groningen (SNG). The foundation was included in the university’s accounts payable department as a creditor since 2015.
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UKrant has access to the final report of the investigation the RUG commissioned into the NOHA case. It says that SNG submitted a written payment request to the Faculty of Arts in April of 2015; SNG advanced the tuition fees for three NOHA students. 

The report, which has been anonymised, states that the person responsible within the faculty says he never saw this written request. However, it has been paid. The RUG stamp on the request does not match his, he says. The person responsible says the letter never reached him, but the report says it ‘was handled by the Faculty Administrative Centre (decentralised), FSSC’s predecessor’. 

Returned money

The report also shows that NOHA Brussel paid students’ yearly tuition to SNG, which in turn paid that money to the RUG department Student Information and Administration (SIA). Even though some NOHA master students only studied in Groningen for part of the year, the RUG always received tuition payment for a full year. The difference was calculated afterwards and then reimbursed to the account number of SNG. Between 2015-2019, the total amount came down to almost 250.000 euros.

According to the report the procedure for restitution of tuition fees was that the money would be returned to the bank account it was originally paid from.  

Private foundation

On January 13, the RUG announced that the 1.2 million euros intended for the NOHA programme at the Faculty of Arts had ended up not with the RUG, but with a private foundation. SNG. The university says it never knew the foundation had been set up. 

The RUG fired professor Joost Herman, reported the crime of (subsidy) fraud and falsification of documents and started a legal procedure against Herman. He founded SNG with two colleagues in 2014. 

According to the report, Herman had been aware since 2012 that any foundation he set up would have to be reported to the faculty. He should have filled out an Internal Business Declaration and hand it in with the arts faculty. But Herman failed to do so.

The report also says that Herman expensed approximately 130,000 euros in travel costs for the NOHA programme. Of that, he expensed 122,500 at SNG, and 24,000 at the RUG. He expensed a total amount of 842 euros twice. He did all this between 2014 and March 2019.

International programme

NOHA, or the Network on Humanitarian Action, is an international partnership of universities that works to improve humanitarian aid. This programme is partially funded by EU money.

Herman was one of the international programme’s founders and served as director for the Groningen branch, and served as financial director for coordinating organisation NOHA Brussels from 2005 to 2014, and as director of the latter since 2014.

There are two lawsuits against Herman at the moment. The first one will probably deal with his firing. The RUG also wants to recover the 1.2 million euros they are missing from him. 

Editor’s note: the two paragraphs under the subheading ‘Returned money’ were added after the article was first published.

Anger over unexpected closing of Linnaeusborg

‘Disastrous for research’

Anger over unexpected closing of Linnaeusborg

On February 18, the Linneausborg will close down for five days because of renovation plans. The announcement came as a surprise. Staff say the closing is a disaster for research and is a detriment to education. The renovation team says it’s the only option.

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Employees were told the news by e-mail on January 31. The current renovation activities necessitate the shutdown of the air conditioning systems for five days, which will affect the air quality to such an extent that it won’t be safe for people to be in the building.

‘This is disastrous for our research’, says Leo Beukeboom, professor of evolutionary genetics. ‘We’re on long-term research involving live animals. We can’t just leave those for five days.’

Experiments

Researchers often keep small animals such as insects, in their labs. ‘If we’re not there to take care of them for a week, they’ll die.’ In addition, many experiments are tuned to the environment in which they take place. The air quality changing endangers the experiments.

RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker says that the people taking care of the animals can still enter the building, but the experiments can’t continue.

That means dozens of PhDs might have to start their experiments all over again, which could delay them by weeks if not months. ‘I speak for many of my colleagues. Everyone is displeased, to put it mildly’, says Beukeboom. 

Education

The shutdown also affects education, since practical classes can’t be relocated. In some cases, the practicum is the first part of a new master course. ‘If we can’t teach that week, students can’t start their course’, says Dirk-Jan Scheffers, professor of molecular microbiology and adjunct education director at Life Science and Technology. 

‘Why didn’t they confer with the departments involved or education coordinators to find out the impact this would have and how to solve it?’ Scheffers wonders. 

Understanding

Housing manager Andrys Weitenberg understands that people are displeased with the shutdown. ‘This is certainly not how we normally do this, but with this particular project it’s just the nature of the approach’, he says. ‘It’s not a traditional approach and on top of that, the project has a deadline, because we have to be done by April.’ 

The definitive planning was finalised two weeks ago. ‘That planning had us do this in week seven, but all the practical labs were taken in that week. The only thing we could do was postpone it a week. It was the lesser of two evils.’ 

Approval

Since the renovation in that time period is being done by seven different companies, it wasn’t until last Wednesday that the new schedule was approved by everyone. ‘We immediately started communicating the plans to everyone’, says Weitenberg. 

He also says that people are working on better informing staff about the project.

After publication, the RUG let UKrant know that the animals in the Linnaeusborg can still be fed. This information was added to the article.

RUG wants to keep new exam times

Evaluation: there are still problems to solve

RUG wants to keep new exam times

The RUG wants to continue with the new exam schedule they recently implemented for another two years. An evaluation of the first exam block did reveal there are some kinks to be worked out, though.
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According to this evaluation, the new times ‘clearly have a negative impact on testing quality’. Nevertheless, due to the long-term prognosis of student numbers, the board of directors feels it’s necessary to stick to the new schedule.

Since September last year, the Aletta Jacobs hall and other locations host not three, but four exams a day. The exams start at eight thirty in the morning, which is thirty minutes earlier than before. Some exams don’t end until ten in the evening. The time between exams has been shortened from two hours to forty-five minutes.

Evaluation

According to the evaluation, the new schedule solves the capacity issues that the university has been suffering from for years. It means that very few exams will have to be scheduled on the weekends this academic year. The university also won’t have to rent as much external space for exams.

There is still a myriad of negative effects, however. The Aletta Jacobs hall sees much more foot traffic during the day, which leads to noise and issues with climate control. The shorter time between exams also means there’s no buffer to solve problems, like an exam starting late.

Focus

The new times are also leading to students having problems focusing, for various reasons. Students especially complain of this for the early morning and late night exams. The new schedule also doesn’t really work for people who use public transport.

People who need extra time are also running into issues. Because of the shorter time between the exams, lecturers are regularly preparing for the next exam while students who need extra time are still working on theirs.

Hundreds of exams

Staff members are also having issues with the new schedule. Especially the shorter times in between are less than practical, because they can’t lay out exams for hundreds of students in just ten minutes. This means they have to prepare further ahead of time rather than just before exams.

The schedule can’t be changes anymore for this year, but the evaluation’s conclusion does say action needs to be taken to solve the problems. The evaluation, which concludes with recommendations, has been sent to the faculty boards of the university so they can discuss a solution.

Berend Roorda (Law) is Lecturer of the Year 2019

The nominees in the Academy Building with the board of directors.

Berend Roorda (Law) is Lecturer of the Year 2019

Last Wednesday, law lecturer Berend Roorda was elected Lecturer of the Year 2019. Laura Batstra with behavioural and social sciences came in second, while theology and religious studies’ Méadhbh McIver came in third.
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Last Wednesday, law lecturer Berend Roorda was elected Lecturer of the Year 2019. Laura Batstra with behavioural and social sciences came in second, while theology and religious studies’ Méadhbh McIver came in third.

Roorda won a cash prize of five thousand euros, an artwork, and, as the cherry on top, he gets to design a course for the Honours College. ‘I already have an idea, but I want to work it out first’, he said after the award ceremony.

Roorda was one of the eleven nominees for the RUG election for Lecturer of the Year. The lecturers were nominated by their own faculties. On Wednesday, they presented themselves with a short pitch about what they did at the university.

Great pitch

A professional jury, which also included last year’s winner Marc Kramer (FEB), said that Roorda was a ‘clear winner’, not just because of his great pitch, in which he talked about the recent farmers’ protests, among other things, but also because of the many letters the jury received from students. The jury said that this showed how committed he is to his students.

Roorda was honoured to receive the award and used the spotlight to raise awareness for his initiative All Ears, where students who need someone to talk to can go to a student worker.

Talk to someone

‘Students can go to their study adviser or a student psychologist, but some people don’t really need those’, says Roorda. ‘But they do want to talk to someone. That’s why we started All Ears.’

All Ears was started in the city centre last year and quickly became so successful that they’ll open a second location at Zernike on March 1. Roorda is also in talks with the University of Amsterdam, which is interested in the initiative.

No wages for on-call employees because of new software system

No wages for on-call employees because of new software

On-call employees who work for the RUG won’t get paid in January because of the implementation of the new software system. Worker’s union FNV recommends they ask for an advance on their wages.
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The RUG’s on-call employees claim the hours they’ve worked in the subsequent month. If they worked in December, their wages will be paid in late January. The implementation of the AFAS-system Best Practice 2020 has made that impossible for this month. 

The FNV is reaching out to its members this week to warn them about this. To prevent financial troubles, the union says, on-call employees can email the human resources department to ask for money in advance. 

The RUG has 513 on-call employees, says spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘Of those, 162 are students, but none of them are teaching assistants. Those are two different categories of staff.’

‘People can still work in the new software system’

‘People can still work in the new software system’

The project team is taking people’s concerns about the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s financial administration that have arisen with the implementation of the new software system Best Practice 2020 very seriously, project manager Erwin Boelens says.
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Boelens states that the team is working hard to answer all the tickets (the written questions on the new system). ‘Together with our supplier AFAS, we’re working on finding fast solutions to the incidents.’

He also says the help desk isn’t quite running how the team wants it to, and that this should and will improve soon. ‘We as a project organisation are well aware that we’re currently in what people call ‘the valley of despair’. Switching to a new system is never a flawless process, and it’s no different for us.’

FSE concerns

Last week, UKrant reported that people at FSE were worried about the faculty’s financial administration. The problems mainly arose when people were putting in orders, since these couldn’t be linked to the correct money flows. This was due to, among other things, the implementation of project codes, and many employees didn’t know how to use those. 

According to reliable sources, business coordinators – the people who manage project finances – now have no financial overview of the projects. The wrongly labelled orders would have to be checked by these people afterwards, possible even manually. This is not only a lot of work for them, but the question remains whether they’d even be able to fix all the wrongly labelled orders at FSE.

Wrong links

According to Boelens, analyses in the new AFAS system have shown that the number of wrongly linked projects is not that bad. Of the almost four thousand purchasing invoices, a hundred have been linked wrong. Of the four thousand purchasing orders, a little more than twenty have been wrongly linked, and almost forty of the over thirteen hundred expenses were. 

‘There is an unequivocal link between project and cost centre. If the cost centre was filled out correctly, we can check exactly where the link is wrong. Afterwards we can check whether we need to make any manual changes’, says Boelens. ‘We have a clear overview for the purchasing invoices, purchasing orders, and expenses.’

Administratively necessary

Boelens also emphasises that changing the project codes has nothing to with the AFAS implementation and that it was administratively necessary. ‘We realise that the implementation of the set-up was not flawless, and we also realise people need more training and information’, says Boelens. 

‘We could better supervise employees in their process of configuring the system, that’s something we want to make happen in the short term.’ 

Working fine

According to Boelens, the most important thing is that working in the front end of the system – where people can order things for research and education – is not a problem. 

Now, the financial overviews have to be straightened out. ‘It’s of great importance that the business coordinators, among others, have a financial overview. We’re definitely seeing that we’re able to shift gears quickly and that we’re solving issues in close collaboration with AFAS. We’re working hard on offering the financial overviews to those people who need it.’

‘I didn’t pocket any of the money for myself’

Fired professor Joost Herman (NOHA case):

‘I didn’t pocket any of the money for myself’

RUG professor Joost Herman, who is being accused of channelling 1.2 euros in university money and was fired over this, bypassed the RUG in making payments in an effort to circumvent the bureaucracy of the university.
27 January om 9:38 uur.
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om 15:16 uur.
January 27 at 9:38 AM.
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Door Giulia Fabrizi

27 January om 9:38 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 January 2020
om 15:16 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 27 at 9:38 AM.
Last modified on January 27, 2020
at 15:16 PM.
Giulia Fabrizi

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This he writes in a statement to his former colleagues which UKrant obtained. He states that although international programmes like NOHA always had ‘political support, […] the actual, practical support for the ideals was sorely lacking’.

‘The foundation was set up in 2014 to engender improved efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out the NOHA joint degree programme in Groningen’, Herman writes. ‘I did NOT pocket the 1.2 million for myself, as almost every serious newspaper is reporting.’

NOHA, or the Network on Humanitarian Action, is an international partnership of universities that works to improve humanitarian aid.

Co-founder

Herman was one of the international programme’s founders and served as director for the Groningen branch. He was also the financial director for the coordinating organisation from 2005 to 2014, and its director since 2014.

Among other things, the RUG provides a two-year master programme on International Humanitarian Action, a programme that’s taught at eight different European universities. Course-wise, the master is the same everywhere, allowing students to attend different universities during the programme.

Using the arts faculty address

In July 2014, Herman and two of his colleagues founded Stichting NOHA Groningen (SNG). He registered SNG to the arts faculty’s address, but the RUG was not informed about the foundation’s inception.

While the foundation was not officially connected to the RUG, Herman redirected funds for the NOHA programme through SNG. The RUG received a tip about this practice by a European partner in March of 2019, upon which the university commissioned an investigation. Herman was suspended effective immediately.

The actual, practical support for the ideals was sorely lacking

On January 13 of this year, the university announced that 1.2 million euros in funds intended for the NOHA programme had ended up with SNG rather that with the RUG. After this, the university fired Herman, issued ‘severe warnings’ to two other employees, reported the crime of (subsidy) fraud and falsification of documents, and started a legal procedure against Herman.

Difficult to implement

According to Herman’s statement, working for the programme was a difficult situation. On the one hand, the programme was supported by the European Committee and ‘political leaders on all levels’, who applauded ‘a larger, greater, increase in mobility, international internships in risk zones, and a crosslink of academics and the practical field’.

On the other hand, there was the practical ‘national reality of the university’, in which various organisations’ national regulations, the ‘university as a slow bureaucratic machine’, and the various RUG departments made it difficult to properly implement the programme.

We created the only workable decisiveness to keep the programme going

‘Taking control (through financial authorisation from the students) of the necessary payments, whatever they were, we created the only workable decisiveness needed to keep the complex programme going’, Herman writes in his statement.

‘Especially since the financial system at the University of Groningen was constantly being reorganised, which led to new staff and slowed everything down. Every employee who’s ever been responsible for a programme will understand this situation.’ In his statement, Hermans says that working through SNG solved these problems.

Blame

He also writes that he ‘takes the blame’ for the way he circumvented the rules and regulations of the university. He’s especially penitent towards his immediate colleagues, who were issued a ‘severe warning’ and are no longer allowed to work with the programme.

However, Herman also writes: ‘I will not, cannot reconcile myself to the fact that I’m being sacrificed to clear up this situation. Whatever people’s opinions on implementing the NOHA programme through the foundation, it cannot be compared to the bookkeeping for the Yantai project or the services department situation.’

Herman is referencing the report that was published in July of last year by the Inspectorate of Education that showed that the RUG had spent a million euros of public funds on the Yantai project when the university was supposed to do that. He’s also referring to a fraud case which came to light in 2016; a manager of the services department had stolen 1.1. million euros from the RUG.

Severe punishment

According to his statement, Herman is being ‘mercilessly and severely punished’ for his actions. He writes that since the forensic investigation started, back in March, he’s not had the chance to tell his side of the story, neither to the RUG nor to the coordinating NOHA organisation.

I’ve not had the chance to tell my side of the story, neither to the RUG, nor to NOHA

He also writes that the way in which the university announced the matter in March 2019, before the investigation had even started, his name and reputation have been tainted both in the Netherlands and abroad. He holds it against the university that they are accusing him of crimes without any tangible proof.

He says he has evidence that refute the allegations. There is the report that resulted from the investigation the RUG commissioned, which allegedly shows that he didn’t pocket any of the money for himself. He also says that university mail exchanges and paper archives, which the RUG has been denying him access to, will prove that he was correct in his implementation of the NOHA programme.

‘Embittered and injured’

Herman ends his statement by saying he feels ‘embittered and injured’ that, after 25 years of ‘being a loyal and exceptional employee’, he never received ‘the benefit of the doubt’. He feels that the focus should be on morality and the purity of the intentions and motives.

He writes that he has no faith in the case coming to a positive end in this regard. ‘That is why I will fight my firing and the damages claim to the end. If I don’t, it will mean the end of my career, and I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.’

Lawyer NOHA case: ‘They’re pillorying this man’

Lawyer NOHA case:

‘They’re pillorying this man’

The employee at the art faculty who’s being accused of channelling 1.2 million euros in university funds and who was fired over this, has not pocketed the money for himself, says Theo de Jong, one of the employee’s lawyers.
24 January om 13:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 January 2020
om 13:51 uur.
January 24 at 13:44 PM.
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at 13:51 PM.


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Door Giulia Fabrizi

24 January om 13:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 27 January 2020
om 13:51 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 24 at 13:44 PM.
Last modified on January 27, 2020
at 13:51 PM.
Giulia Fabrizi

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‘The RUG didn’t miss out on a single cent’, says de Jong. ‘I read all 228 pages of the report, and it clearly states that all the money went to the project. We feel like he’s being pilloried and made an example of.’

On January 13, the RUG announced that the 1.2 million euros intended for the NOHA programme at the Faculty of Arts had ended up not with the RUG, but with a private foundation. The university fired one of its employees and issued a severe warning to two others. All three were involved in the private foundation Stichting NOHA Groningen.

The RUG also filed a report of (subsidy) fraud and falsification of documents and started a civil procedure against the fired employee. NOHA is the Network on Humanitarian Action, set up to improve humanitarian aid in crisis areas.

Compensation

While the money, which included European subsidies and tuition fees, was transferred to the foundation’s bank account, De Jong says that every single cent ended up with the RUG’s NOAH programme. De Jong therefore doesn’t understand why the RUG wants to recoup the 1.2 million from his client.

‘I discussed the report with them in the first week of January and figured the claim for damages would go away, since my client didn’t pocket any of the money for himself’, De Jong says. ‘If the money first went to the foundation and then to the programme, what’s there for the RUG to recoup from my client?’

De Jong is not worried about the case against his client. He does say that the report shows that accounting can’t make up for two thousand of the 1.2 million euros. ‘But that’s all it is, an accounting mistake. That money hasn’t disappeared.’

Slow bureaucracy

The foundation was not officially part of the university and was therefore not allowed. De Jong says that by taking control of necessary payments, the fired employee was able to go around the university’s slow bureaucratic system. It was, he says, the only way to keep the international programme going.

‘Say you broke the rules and regulations, strictly speaking’, says De Jong. ‘If your motives were to deceive people and make money, case closed. But if nothing was actually stolen, and there wasn’t, you have to look at the moral considerations, and people aren’t doing that.’

De Jong wants to make it clear that his client’s intentions weren’t to deceive people, but to keep the programme going. ‘There are two questions we have to ask ourselves here: did the money end up with the project? And was it appropriately spent, as the schools inspectorate wants it to? The answer to both those questions is unreservedly yes.’

New software system causes financial chaos at FSE

New software causes financial chaos at FSE

At FSE, the financial administration for January is a mess. The new AFAS system Best Practice 2020 isn’t recording orders as it should, which means many of those orders are being linked to the wrong accounts.
22 January om 12:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 January 2020
om 12:51 uur.
January 22 at 12:05 PM.
Last modified on January 22, 2020
at 12:51 PM.


Giulia Fabrizi

Door Giulia Fabrizi

22 January om 12:05 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 January 2020
om 12:51 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 22 at 12:05 PM.
Last modified on January 22, 2020
at 12:51 PM.
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There is no clear overview and people will not always be able to make retroactive manual adjustments.

The problems are partially caused by the fact that the new software is using new project codes. There are no clear instructions on the new codes, and people at the faculty aren’t clear on how to use them.

AFAS is either not answering questions on the issue or not answering them satisfactorily. This has led to employees looking for solutions themselves. But reliable sources have told UKrant that there are very few people who actually understand the system, which means they are sharing makeshift solutions. 

Project codes

In principle, the change of the project codes is a simple one. Before the new software, each project came with its own project code. Both projects from the primary flow of funding (money that comes from the university), and from the second and third flows (project money that for example comes from NWO or the EU) each had their own code. These codes functioned as it were account numbers containing the project funds.

In the new system, only money from the first flow of funding has a single code. Everything that’s considered a project now has two: a cost centre and a project code. The cost centre indicates which flow of funding the money comes from, and the project code denotes the specific account.

Anyone who makes an order has to list both the cost centre (usually the second or third flow of funding) as the project code. This is the only way the funds needed for an order can be reimbursed from the correct project. 

Inaccessible money flows

The past few weeks it has turned that out the second and third flows of funding (which most of FSE depends on) weren’t accessible within the system. The first money flow, on the other hand, was. As a result, when people ordered something they needed for their project, they referred not to their own account, but to the primary flow.

They also needed just a single code to finish up their orders. Very few people actually use the correct project code, instead using the cost centre. This means that it will be difficult to figure out to which projects the more common orders, which many research groups make, belong.

Chaos

Because people can still complete their orders, it looks like the system is working as it should. But the real problems occur in the admin department. Business coordinators, the people who manage project finances, now have no financial overview of the projects.

A tool to help with this is still under construction, but the information that the coordinators would normally use is now unavailable. That means they can’t tell professors or project members – who normally go to them with financial questions – what’s going on with the finances of their group. 

Manual check

On top of this, the orders were not input correctly from an administrative point of view, and a manual check is needed to figure everything out. Due to the confusion involving the codes, it remains to be seen how many of the orders recorded will be linked to their corresponding budgets.

This means that project groups at the faculty are in danger of not being able to invoice enough, if any, subsidy funds from their subsidisers, when the faculty is basically run on that money. The risk is that subsidisers can think project groups initially requested more money than they actually needed. In the worst case scenario, this could lead to subsequent subsidies being lower or even being retracted. 

Minister warns RUG for litigious scholarship PhDs

The scholarship PhD students who spoke out against the experiment are disappointed that the university is allowed to continue with it. Photo: Reyer Boxem

Experiment can continue

Minister warns RUG for litigious scholarship PhDs

Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven will not put a stop to the controversial scholarship PhD experiment. She does warn universities that some scholarship PhD students might be protected under labour laws.

21 January om 12:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 January 2020
om 11:48 uur.
January 21 at 12:59 PM.
Last modified on January 22, 2020
at 11:48 AM.


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Door Giulia Fabrizi

21 January om 12:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 January 2020
om 11:48 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 21 at 12:59 PM.
Last modified on January 22, 2020
at 11:48 AM.
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The minister decided to continue the experiment because last year’s interim evaluation ‘did not indicate any adverse effect on the research climate at one or more universities’.

The interim evaluation, which was much criticised, still has to be assessed for scientific reliability. In a written answer to questions asked in the Lower House, the minister said she expects the results of this independent assessment early this year.

Lawsuit

But if the financial remuneration is the only difference between employed PhDs and scholarship PhDs, Van Engelshoven says, a court could decide that the contract is in fact an employment contract. If scholarship PhDs are doing the same work as employed PhDs, they should be paid the same.

This is why a group of twenty RUG scholarship PhDs protested last year. In a manifesto, they outlined a number of criticisms – they say they’re pressured to teach when this is not actually required of scholarship PhDs – and called for a stop to the experiment as it is currently designed.

With 850 scholarship PhDs, the RUG is the biggest participant in the experiment. Over two hundred of these PhDs have signed the manifest since it was published.

Disappointed

‘We’re disappointed by minister Van Engelshoven’s decision’, says Martha Buit, who represents the scholarship PhDs who wrote the manifesto. ‘Earlier, it looked like she might put a stop to the experiment, but now she’s continuing it based on a controversial interim evaluation. It’s also surprising that she expects the RUG to solve the problems concerning the experiment.’

The group mainly regrets that the minister hints at inequalities but doesn’t outright name them. ‘She’s basically saying that while the experiment has its issues, she won’t acknowledge them and leaves it up to the PhDs themselves to put it before the courts’, explains Buit. 

That’s a step the scholarship PhDs would rather not take. ‘We love our work and love doing it. In an ideal world, that would be all we did. But we are exploring our options.’ They would have preferred it if Van Engelshoven took action to correct the inequality in the current terms of employment.

Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Irritation about teething problems new software system

Irritation about teething problems new software system

The implementation of the Best Practice 2020 software system has not been without its issues. Many staff members are still confused about how to perform daily tasks and they’re having trouble finding solutions.
15 January om 11:57 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 January 2020
om 12:51 uur.
January 15 at 11:57 AM.
Last modified on January 15, 2020
at 12:51 PM.

Giulia Fabrizi

Door Giulia Fabrizi

15 January om 11:57 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 15 January 2020
om 12:51 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 15 at 11:57 AM.
Last modified on January 15, 2020
at 12:51 PM.

In the first week, the help desk was practically unreachable by phone. ‘That’s correct, and we regret that’, says Erwin Boelens, Best Practice 2020 project manager. The help desk should be able to help several people at once; their main number transfers to ten sub-numbers so there’s always someone to answer the phone. 

But once implemented, that system turned out to have some issues. ‘We did fix it in the end’, says Boelens. ‘At four o’clock on Thursday I was told the issue was solved. Unfortunately, it took way too long.’

Communication

The communication concerning the implementation of the new system is one of the main irritations for many employees. Across various faculties, people simply have no idea how to perform routine tasks in the system, ranging from the new purchasing system to administrative tasks. Many things remain confusing.

One example is the lack of a delegation button for professors, allowing them to pass administrative tasks on to secretaries. This is an essential part of many secretarial offices who are there to relieve professors and other managers. Now, these tasks are left up to the  managers who have to do more administrative tasks. 

Employees assume that this function will soon return to the system, but Boelens isn’t sure. ‘We’re still working on how to put that delegation function back. I understand how the employees see it, but it’s not like professors suddenly have to do a lot of work they didn’t have to do before. It’s minimal.’

Intuitive 

To elucidate employees, the Best Practice 2020 team has been taking stock of which parts of the system still need to be explained, and which ones don’t. In spite of the widespread lack of understanding of the new system, Boelens says the employees should try to figure it out intuitively. 

‘Some staff members have already worked that out. That’s how the system was built. In the meantime, we’ll be visiting managers to take stock of what we have to change in terms of documentation and training.’ Boelens says sessions for that have already been scheduled. 

Test

Employees also have positive things to say about the new system. In many cases, they understand how Best Practice 2020 is a long-term improvement over the four outdated programs it’s replacing. They do feel that a proper test before the implementation could have prevented much of the current unrest. 

Boelens explains that the system was in fact tested before it was implemented. ‘An external partner tested whether the system did what we intended it to do. It was also tested by several dozen end users in December. Based on that and other factors, the board of directors decided to launch the system according to the original schedule.’

Teething problems

For now, the team will be busy fixing the system’s teething problems. ‘We’re currently in a phase where we’re trying to determine and solve the problems’, says Boelens. ‘We have to make certain priorities in that. We’ll first focus on things that are urgent, and then continue down the line.’ 

It’s Boelens’ ambition to fix all the teething problem by March 1. ‘But we should definitely have got rid of them by the second quarter.’

Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

5 questions about NOHA and the fraud case

5 questions about NOHA and the fraud case

On Monday, the RUG announced that three staff members at the Faculty of Arts had funnelled 1.2 million euros to a foundation they’d set up themselves. The university says it’s fraud. What’s going on?
15 January om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 January 2020
om 13:11 uur.
January 15 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on January 20, 2020
at 13:11 PM.

Giulia Fabrizi

Door Giulia Fabrizi

15 January om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 January 2020
om 13:11 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 15 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on January 20, 2020
at 13:11 PM.

What do we know so far about the fraud case at the arts faculty?

In March 2019, a European partner of the RUG was doing an audit and started having questions about payments it had made to the university. It concerns payments as part of the international Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA). The RUG and other universities have master programmes as part of this network.

The RUG hired external agency EY Forensic and Integrity Services to investigate the matter. Monday night, nine months after the start of that investigation, the RUG announced that it will be reporting the staff members for (subsidy) fraud and falsification of documents.

A trio of employees allegedly used the private Stichting NOHA Groningen (SNG) to withdraw 1.2 million euros worth of university money from the official university flow of funds.

One of the staff members was fired immediately, while the two others received a ‘stern warning’. The university has also started a civil procedure against the foundation and one of the staff members involved. This professor at the faculty is considered the ‘main suspect’.

NOHA is an international partnership the RUG participates in. Doesn’t that mean that Stichting NOHA Groningen is part of the university?

International partnership NOHA and Foundation NOHA Groningen are two separate entities. The international partnership consists of 24 universities who want to improve international aid relief.

Among other things, the RUG provides a two-year master programme on International Humanitarian Action, a programme that’s taught at eight different European universities.

Stichting NOHA Groningen, however, is a private foundation that was set up by three RUG employees in July 2014. While they were involved in the master programme, the foundation was set up without the university’s knowledge.

According to the university, SNG was used for questionable financial transactions: money that was intended for the programme ended up at the foundation rather than at the RUG.

If the foundation is separate from the university, how did it happen that it received university funds, like tuition fees paid by master students?

Students who want to study the master International Humanitarian Action, don’t register directly at the RUG, but at NOHA. These students pay 12,000 euros in tuition fees for the complete, two-year track. They pay this money to NOHA, which is currently headquartered in the Spanish city of Bilbao.

Each academic year, NOHA divides the students across the eight universities who provide this master programme. Based on how many students they get the universities are given a portion of the tuition fees.

Apart from the tuition fees, the foundation is also said to have paid European subsidies to itself. These funds were also meant for the university.

‘All the funds went directly to the foundation’, says RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens. ‘They did spend the money on the programme, but they also made payments that nobody was checking. The funding was organised outside of the purview of the RUG.’

How did they transfer this money, a substantial amount collected through ingenious means over the course of several years, to the foundation without the RUG knowing about it? Don’t they have people to check these kinds of things?

This is why the RUG is making a report of falsification of documents. The employees involved used official RUG stationery, fooling the international organisation into believing they were dealing with the RUG itself. There was one significant detail, though: the letters contained not the university’s official bank account, but that of SNG.

The RUG was the scene of another fraud case; in 2016, the head of the technical services department stole 1.1 million euros.

The university took extra measures to combat fraud. But according to critics of the university, the RUG can’t explain in this particular case how they managed to miss the fact that European money ended up with the foundation rather than the university.

On top of that, it was a European partner that pointed out the ‘inadequacies’, not the RUG itself. Members of the university council have announced they will be asking questions about this issue.

The board of directors has made a report of falsification of documents and (subsidy) fraud and has started a civil procedure. Why has one person been fired, while two others were issued a ‘stern warning’?

According to the RUG, that has to do with the EY Forensic and Integrity Services investigation. ‘The investigation showed exactly what happened and the various people played’, says Deekens. ‘Based on our finding, the board of directors decided which actions to take against which employee.’

The ‘stern warnings’ issued by the university are like a yellow card, says Deekens. ‘Two yellow cards equal red.’ In reality, it means that the two staff members are still employed at the university and can keep working within their fields. The university has made sure that they are in no way connected to the international NOHA programme.

RUG after Maastricht cyber attack: Be alert, don’t click on strange emails

RUG after Maastricht cyber attack: Be alert

After the successful ransomware attack on the university of Maastricht, Dutch universities are on edge. Last year, the RUG invested in ‘extra measures’ and tells people to stay alert.
8 January om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 January 2020
om 11:12 uur.
January 8 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on January 14, 2020
at 11:12 AM.

Giulia Fabrizi

Door Giulia Fabrizi

8 January om 11:20 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 January 2020
om 11:12 uur.
Giulia Fabrizi

By Giulia Fabrizi

January 8 at 11:20 AM.
Last modified on January 14, 2020
at 11:12 AM.

Due to the safety risk, spokesperson Jorien Bakker was unable to say what these extra measures entail. She does say that it’s important for everyone to stay alert to strange e-mails with unknown links.

‘As we’ve always done, we’re advising people to not open those messages, and delete them’, she says. ‘We have great measures in place and regularly perform checks, but there is such a thing as human error.’ To prevent the RUG from falling prey to ransomware, students and staff have to stay alert.

Ransomware

The ransomware used in Maastricht devastated the entire university network during the winter holidays. Access to scientific data, the e-mailing system, the student portal, and the library was completely blocked.

This was due to the so-called Clop virus: a virus that spreads throughout a network to encrypt data. Only the person who initially spread the virus has the correct key to unlock the data.

The cyber criminals who use this kind of software do so in the hopes of extorting money in exchange for unlocking the data. University magazine Observant claims Maastricht University paid the ransom, to restore the systems as quickly as possible. The university itself had no comment.

Cause

It’s unclear how the Clop virus managed to infest the Maastricht University systems, or what can be done against it. The university is investigating and will share its results with other Dutch universities.

On Tuesday, ScienceGuide quoted the university as saying that it doesn’t think the attack was specifically targeted at them. A spokesperson said it was a case of several widespread cyber attacks. The university thinks it was ‘simply unlucky’.