Stress affects your brain. But it can recover

Stress affects your brain. But it can recover

A human brain experiencing ongoing stress actually changes, causing issues like anxiety or depression. But the brain can recover from that extremely quickly, discovered Bruno Giacobbo.
By Christien Boomsma
7 November om 10:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 11 November 2019
om 13:48 uur.
November 7 at 10:01 AM.
Last modified on November 11, 2019
at 13:48 PM.

Bruno Giacobbo has been fascinated by stress for a long time. It’s all around us, all the time. ‘Everything we do involves some level of stress. So it’s important to know how it molds our life’, he says.

Research has already extensively shown that stress is related to many modern-day health problems like depression and anxiety, which is why it’s essential to know what exactly it does to the brain. Tiny problem: you can’t cut open a human brain to see what’s happening inside. And it’s also really hard to standardise this kind of research.

So Giacobbo did his research not on humans, but on rats. ‘They’re extremely social animals and very smart. And they react much the same way humans do when they’re put under stress.’

Mimic human situations

He worked on two kinds of stress: the short term sort of – say – an exam week. And the long-term stress. Think of children growing up in a home with abuse. 

He mimicked these stress situations in rats by comparing animals he had completely isolated for three months, with animals that had lived the same period of time in a big cage, filled with lots of toys and other rats to play with.  

For the short-term stress, he let rats get bullied, by putting a big and aggressive rat in their cage for five days in a row. 

Stressed rats get fat

His findings were clear. The rats that had been socially isolated had gained weight. ‘Of course, they didn’t have much more to do than eat and sleep.’  They were also quite restless and fearful. And their short-term memory was way worse than that of the animals that had lived in an enriched environment, with lots of stimuli.  

Giacobbo then turned to examining their brains and found differences there too. The socially isolated rats had lower levels of BDNF, a protein that is associated with memory and brain plasticity ‘And in humans BDNF is associated with depression and neurodegenerative diseases.’

Finally, he looked at inflammation of their brains using PET-scans. Again, the stressed animals had more neural inflammation. ‘When that happens for a longer period of time, it can reach a point of no return and the inflammation becomes chronic’, Giacobbo says. ‘The animal will suffer for a long time.’ 

No chronic effects

Giacobbo’s tests for short-term stress showed happier results. The rats that were bullied for five days in a row showed clear signs of depression, just like the animals that had been isolated for a long time. They were fearful and had more ‘anhedonia’ – an inability to enjoy themselves. ‘We tested that by giving them water with sugar. If they don’t drink it, then we know they don’t experience pleasure.’ Also they refrained from socializing. ‘Which makes perfect sense, of course.’ 

However, where the long-term stress seems to have chronic effects on the brain, the animals quickly overcame their short-term stress. ‘When we tested the animals two weeks after the tests had finished, the behaviour was gone completely’, says Giacobbo. ‘I really thought they would be stressed out for a long time. But then, suddenly, they were okay again. So that’s sort of a happy ending.’ 

He advises students experiencing stress to make sure they destress regularly. How you do that, however, is completely up to you. ‘It’s about what feels good for you’, Giacobbo says. 

Funeral procession forced to brake for speedy students

‘Too sad for words’

Funeral procession forced to brake for speedy students

Drivers often have to brake hard when they’re driving towards funeral centre Yarden along the Crematoriumlaan. Students en route to Zernike often blindly cross the Crematoriumlaan, interrupting funeral processions.
Door Paulien Plat / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
4 November om 15:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 5 November 2019
om 10:33 uur.
November 4 at 15:01 PM.
Last modified on November 5, 2019
at 10:33 AM.

‘It’s just too sad for words’, says Willem Hogekamp, funeral arranger with Yarden’s crematorium. Some cyclists politely wait at the crossing. ‘But a lot of them just cross the street.’ He understands that it’s difficult to stop if you’re in the middle of large group of moving cyclists. ‘But they should really show some respect.’ 

Next to the cycling path, just before the intersection with the Crematoriumlaan, there’s a bright yellow sign with a picture of a hearse and the word ‘Respect’. It is in fact illegal to cross a funeral procession, but most people don’t care. Speedy students throw themselves in front of the hearse or dash between the other cars in the procession. 

There have been times where the hearse driver had to brake hard to avoid hitting a student. Hogekamp says it happens every day. ‘It’s a real nuisance. Anything that could happen has happened.’ He feels especially bad for the relatives who are there to mourn a loved one. ‘But it’s also a drag for us as funeral service employees.’ 

More reports

Yarden has been reporting the incidents to the city; the number of reports has gone up over the past few months. City spokesperson Peter Grondsma thinks this is because of the start of the academic year, which has brought in students who aren’t aware of the situation. ‘That’s why we put up those yellow signs.’

The people of Yarden haven’t noticed a difference, however. ‘Sure, there’s a sign. But people either have respect or they don’t’, says Hogekamp. ‘It would be great if everyone just waited.’ 

Restructuring the intersection might help. ‘We’ll start work in that either this year or next year’, says Grondsma. ‘We’ll be making the situation more organised, using different colours asphalt.’ The restructuring is supposed to make cyclists stop and wait for the processions to pass. But, says Hogekamp, ‘it’s just a matter of decency.’ 

RUG student number growth slows down

The explosive increase of the number of students at the RUG seems to be slowing down. The total number of students has grown by 2.4 percent, down form 4.6 percent last year. This means that the RUG is below the national average of 4 percent this year.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The RUG published the stats on the student numbers last Thursday. This year, the RUG has a total of 32,765 students. Of these, 5,619 started a bachelor programme, 1.029 started a pre-master, and 4,007 started a master programme.

Numbers bachelor and master programmes

The number of students starting a bachelor programme slightly declined this year. According to the university, this year saw 187 fewer students than 2018. The RUG says the deline is partly caused by three programmes, including the popular psychology programme, instating a numerus causus.

Contrary to the bachelor, the number of students starting a master programme have gone up. The number of new master students is 4,007 this year, raising the total number of master students to more than 10,200. Last year, the total number of master students was a little over 10,000.

The number of new pre-master students was almost the same as last year. In 2018, 905 students started a pre-master, and this year that number was 1,029.

International students

The number of international students also keeps growing.. This year, 2,595 new international students started a programme at the Groningen university. This increases the total number of RUG international students to 7,683.

Last year, international students represented 22.8 percent of the total number of students; this year, they are 23.4 percent.

The RUG has international students from over 120 countries, although most of them are from Germany. Of the more than 7,600 international student, 2,274 are German.

Romania comes second, with 445 students at the RUG, followed by Great Britain (441), Italy (405), and China, with 353 students. There are fewer than 150 students from each other nationality at the RUG.

Faculties and programmes

The faculties drawing the most students this year are the Faculty of Science and Engineering, the Faculty of Law, and the Faculty of Spatial Sciences.

The new faculty Campus Fryslân has also seen an increase in its percentages. They went from 40 students to 106 this year. As for the individual programmes, the bachelors of business, computer science, and biomolecular sciences are growing the fastest.

Photo report: Opening Campus Fryslân Faculty building

Opening Campus Fryslân Faculty building

Campus Fryslân officially opened the doors to its new faculty building at the Wirdumerdijk. There were three days of activities showcasing the renovated stock exchange and the faculty itself.
Photos by Felipe Silva
4 November om 14:06 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 November 2019
om 14:07 uur.
November 4 at 14:06 PM.
Last modified on November 4, 2019
at 14:07 PM.

How the brain perceives time

There is no internal clock

How the brain perceives time

Waiting for the bus alone late at night can seem to take forever. But when you’re at a bar chatting to a friend, time flies by. Why? What’s happening in your brain?
By Anna Koslerova
4 November om 11:43 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 5 November 2019
om 10:19 uur.
November 4 at 11:43 AM.
Last modified on November 5, 2019
at 10:19 AM.

‘Time is very attractive, because it is very weird’, says cognitive-neuroscientist Nadine Schlichting. We all think we know what we mean when we talk about time passing; but in fact, the experience of time differs from culture to culture. While Westerners think of time as linear, the Japanese think of a timeline as a circle. The differences made Schlichting ask herself: is there any shared biological factor that helps us measure time?

It was a big question. ‘I wanted to know how time is represented in the brain. Looking back now, that was really naïve. But this sort of unrealistic enthusiasm may be exactly what PhD candidates need at the start of their long, bumpy journey’, Schlichting says. And even though she’s had many setbacks, last week she was finally be able to defend her thesis.

No brain clock

Her first experiments measured brain activity using EEG monitoring. Individual subjects were put in a room with a screen. The screen displayed some number of dots. During the first part of the experiment, subjects were instructed to focus on the number of dots. During the second half, they were told to simply focus on the passing of time.

The hope was that the brain activity recordings between the groups would be different. ‘That would indicate that the brain has designated special areas for processing time-related information’, she says.

But that’s not what happened. ‘I got really convincing null-results in the end: we definitely don’t have an internal clock-mechanism in our brains.’

Not a failure

At first Schlichting was disappointed. But looking back, she sees value in the results. ‘Null results are important results. I am not so bothered about finding nothing, because that already tells us something.’ 

And the experiments weren’t a total failure. She had to abandon her original hypothesis, but did find something interesting: when subjects focused on the number of dots on the screen, they seemed to perceive time differently depending on the number of dots displayed.

For example, a subject focused on a screen with four dots perceived time passing more slowly than a person focused on a screen with two dots. ‘That was weird. I decided to look into it.’

Input

So she replicated the experiment. ‘On top of the effect I found, other studies report similar effects of other dimensions, like size and speed.’ Her results were clear: the higher the number, the faster time seems to pass. External input affects our perception of time duration.

Why does that matter? Well, we rely on external input to estimate time in our environments all the time. For example, if you see a ball coming at you from far away, you perceive that you will have more time to catch it than you would if it was thrown at you from a closer distance. 

Schlichting’s experiments confirm that our cognitive processing works best if we ‘associate information about time with other input’. We need that input to make judgements about the passing of time precisely because we do not have a designated temporal sense or internal clock mechanism.

Slow down

Schlichting hopes that the scientific community will distance itself from viewing time perception as an internal process and consider instead the many ways we extract information about time from different sources.

Her findings aren’t just an abstract scientific bauble, Schlichting says. The impact our environment has on time perception is something we can all consider and put to use in our daily lives.

In a chaotic environment, for example, we pay less attention to how much time is passing, whereas a less stimulating environment can have the effect of slowing down our perception of time passing. ‘In a cafe with a minimalist design, time will seem to slow. A busy, noisy cafe will probably have the opposite effect.’

Students are still getting used to changed exam times

Students still getting used to changed exam times

Suddenly, there are four exams a day at the Aletta Jacobs hall rather than three. They start earlier, last until late at night, and lead to more hustle and bustle around the building. Students are having a hard time getting used to the change.
Door Paulien Plat / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
30 October om 11:12 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 30 October 2019
om 11:13 uur.
October 30 at 11:12 AM.
Last modified on October 30, 2019
at 11:13 AM.

The first few students slowly trickle into the Aletta Jacobs hall, still looking dazed. It’s exam time, and the first exam, which used to start at nine o’clock, has been moved to eight thirty. International business student Bart Rijkens (24) had to be at the hall even earlier: ‘I’m allowed extra time for my exam, so they had me start at eight’, he says after his exam. 

Hard to focus

Bart said it was hard to focus. ‘I’ve never had any classes start at eight, or even at eight thirty. I’m completely thrown off my rhythm. I went to bed at eleven but couldn’t fall asleep.’ 

More students are having a hard time getting used to the change. ‘Our circadian rhythm is just different’, says law student Maartje te Brake (20). ‘We simply aren’t properly awake at eight thirty.’ 

But the late exams also pose a problem, says Maartje. Last Monday, she had to sit an exam from seven to ten in the evening. ‘I had lost all focus by the end. At some point, I just sat there laughing.’

Hustle and bustle

Maartje hasn’t really noticed the extra hustle and bustle. ‘It’s always been busy at law exams, so I haven’t noticed much of a difference’, she says. Ilse Thomson (22), econometrics student, agrees. ‘We were always packed like sardines before exams started.’

During the exams, supervisors make sure that no one causes a disturbance. Students who are making too much noise are told to leave. Bart says this works. ‘I never hear the people outside in the hall.’

‘Burqa ban’ also in effect on RUG grounds

Concierges responsible for upholding ban

‘Burqa ban’ also in effect on RUG grounds

Wearing any clothing that covers the face will no longer be allowed in RUG buildings and on university grounds. On Tuesday, the RUG board decided that the concierges, among others, are responsible for upholding the ‘burqa ban’.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
30 October om 11:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 November 2019
om 14:23 uur.
October 30 at 11:00 AM.
Last modified on November 4, 2019
at 14:23 PM.

On Tuesday, the RUG board of directors consented to new guidelines that would allow the university to actively take action against people wearing clothing that covers theirs face.

The ban on clothing that covers the face has also been included in the recently published student statutes. This means the ‘burqa ban’, as it’s colloquially known, is now officially in effect in all the RUG’s buildings and on all the grounds.

Enforcement

Anyone who does try to enter a university building wearing a full-face helmet, balaclava, or burqa will be confronted. ‘We will be following the instructions that the Ministry of the Interior has issued’, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘But our first approach will always be to ask politely.’

Service department employees, which includes the concierges, will be responsible for upholding the ban. ‘They’ll politely point out that the clothing someone is wearing isn’t allowed’, Bakker explains.

If someone refuses to remove their face cover even after repeated requests, security will be called. ‘They will also ask the person to remove the offending piece of clothing. If that doesn’t work, they’ll call the police.’

Unrecognisable

As of August 1, it is illegal to wear clothing that obscures the face to the extent that a person is unrecognisable on public transport and in and around educational, healthcare, and government buildings. The law doesn’t mention any specific clothing items, but it has become colloquially known as the ‘burqa ban’.

Critics of the law says it’s a case of symbol politics, aimed at solving a problem that doesn’t actually exist while disenfranchising a small group of mostly Islamic women. When the law was introduced, the mayors of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht all said that they wouldn’t prioritise upholding it.

Criticism at the RUG

People at the RUG are also critical of the decision to uphold the law. Student party DAG and the Groningen Feminist Network (GFN) both said they were disappointed. ‘The university has a certain kind of freedom when it comes to upholding this law. They could have decided to stand with other critics of the law, like the mayor of Amsterdam’, says Manuel Reyes, DAG university council faction member.

DAG and GFN don’t understand how a university that only last year celebrated its anniversary around the theme of ‘inclusivity’ is now taking measures that DAG and GFN feel are discriminating.

‘We’d hoped that the university would set a good example’, says Reyes.

RUG does not want biomass plant at Zernike Campus

‘Not sustainable enough’

RUG does not want biomass plant at Zernike Campus

The Groningen municipality wants to keep the option open for a biomass plant at Zernike. The university is set against it, because it believes such a plant isn’t sustainable.
By Koen Marée / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
29 October om 14:16 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 5 November 2019
om 14:26 uur.
October 29 at 14:16 PM.
Last modified on November 5, 2019
at 14:26 PM.

The RUG has formally objected to the plant, which would burn wood to generate energy. The university says the plant would lead to more CO2 exhaust, when the goal is to decrease it. RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker: ‘The plant doesn’t jibe with the RUG’s ambition to be a CO2-neutral university by 2020.’

The RUG also expects an increase in traffic bringing wood to the plant and points out that burning wood leads to a rise in fine matter, which would lead to bad air quality, affecting people and animals.

‘The RUG operates an animal facility at Zernike and is dead set against the air quality deteriorating, sas it can negatively affect the results of certain experiments’, says Bakker.

Alternative option

In spite of the RUG’s protests, the option for a plant was included in changes to the development plans which will be discussed by the Groningen city council on Wednesday.

But even if the plans are approved, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the biomass plant will be built. Rather, it’s intended to be an alternative option, in case the initiative by energy company WarmteStad to produce energy from the surplus heat of data centres is unsuccessful.

Painted waste wood

The municipality has slightly changed the plans after the university’s objections. If a biomass plant is built, it would not burn any waste wood with paint or any other type of finish on it. 

But the RUG says this isn’t enough. ‘We object against the construction of a biomass plant itself’, says Bakker. 

Students to propose motion against Van Rijn at D66 conference

Martin van Rijn hands education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven the Van Rijn committee report.

‘Plan will lead to more work stress’

Students ask D66 to come out against Van Rijn

RUG students and D66 members Romy Dekker and Thomas Hoekstra say that the D66 faction of the Lower House should come out against the redistribution of educational funds that takes money away from arts programmes and gives it to science programmes.
By Koen Marée / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
29 October om 13:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 29 October 2019
om 13:44 uur.
October 29 at 13:44 PM.
Last modified on October 29, 2019
at 13:44 PM.

They will propose a motion for this at the party conference on November 9.

Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) announced the redistribution of funds after the Van Rijn committee published a report in May. If the plan goes through, the students write, it will ‘probably result in more work stress among university staff’. 

Dekker and Hoekstra also say that the government needs to invest in education and research of all disciplines since it can help tackle societal issues.

In July, Van Engelshoven’s plans announced a 4.5 million cut to RUG funds starting in 2021. That money will instead go to technical universities. If Dutch universities accept the proposed fund redistribution, the RUG calculates it would lose 186 jobs.

Wiggle room

Dekker, who studies European languages and cultures, expects support for the motion at the conference. If the motion is accepted, the Lower House faction will have some wiggle room to make changes to it. ‘It’s not like we need something to happen right away. But if a majority votes in favour of the motion, that’s a clear signal at least.’

The two students are also tabling a motion to bring back the basic study grant. Recently, D66 leader Rob Jetten cautiously said he was open to an alternative to the current loans system. ‘We want the basic grant back’, says Dekker, ‘although not everyone in the party agrees with us.’

Fareeba witnessed the shooting of the Pathé murder suspect

Fareeba Sheedfar photographed the arrest from her apartment.

RUG staff member photographed the arrest

Fareeba witnessed the shooting of the Pathé murder suspect

It was supposed to be a lazy Sunday morning. But then Fareeba Sheedfar from the RUG’s Research Data Office witnessed the Pathé murder suspect being shot by the police.
By Christien Boomsma
28 October om 17:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 29 October 2019
om 14:20 uur.
October 28 at 17:24 PM.
Last modified on October 29, 2019
at 14:20 PM.

Breakfast was on the table, the coffee was still hot. Fareeba Sheedfar and her husband Matthijs Platje were preparing for a lazy Sunday morning in their apartment at the Hoendiep when they suddenly heard shouting outside. ‘Of course, we hear people shouting on the street more often, but that’s drunk people, late at night. This was different and really, really loud.’ 

Fareeba and her husband immediately raced to the window of their Hoendiep apartment to see what was happening. They were just in time to see a man in a black t-shirt standing near the petrol station’s car park. He was pointing his gun at another guy, maybe one or two metres away from him. ‘I mean close. Really close’, Fareeba said, while demonstrating both the distance and the posture of the man, gun pointing down. 

She heard shots and then the second man started screaming.

Ergün S.

A year ago, when she was camping with her husband in France, she had heard gunshots, too. Back then she mistook them for firecrackers, only to find out later that some police officers had been shot close to where she was.  Now, she knew the bangs for what they were.

Fareeba grabbed her phone as her husband went for his SLR camera. They glued themselves to the window, their eyes on the scene.

They didn’t know exactly what was happening. Fareeba had heard of the murders in the Pathé cinema. On Saturday morning, the bodies of two cleaners had been found there. Ergün S. had been captured by CCTV cameras exiting the cinema.

Fareeba Sheedfar

On Saturday night, when she was out with her husband during the Nacht van de Nacht, he had warned her to stay close, because a murderer was out there. ‘And you never know!’ As she watched the police peeling off the suspect’s clothes, it dawned on her that this had to be Ergün S.

After S. had been shot, the police officer moved in quickly. He kicked something away that made a sound like metal. ‘I think it was a knife.’ Another unmarked police car appeared in less than thirty seconds. A second policeman jumped out and started helping the wounded man. ‘There was so much blood’, Fareeba says. ‘Their hands were all bloody and it was flowing out onto the street.’ 

As more unmarked police cars appeared, blocking the streets, S. stopped screaming. ‘We were like: is he dead? But then we saw him put his hand up.’ 

Lots of blood

As the drama unfolded, she started to share pictures on Twitter. She and her husband were supposed to visit friends in Annen, but they called to say they wouldn’t be able to make it. ‘We told them we felt safer staying at home. Too much was happening.’ 

The police didn’t start wrapping up the scene until approximately two in the afternoon. After the suspect had been taken to hospital, a forensic crew took photos and endless samples. At last, the street was cleaned up. ‘When I came there this morning, all the blood was gone.’ 

She didn’t feel shaken, she says, and had a really good night’s sleep. Still, her colleagues were surprised to see her at work this morning. ‘They had expected me to take the day off’, she says. She didn’t need to, though. ‘I think the guy who shot this man might need to recover.’ 

Minister will check in on probe into ‘passport professor’

Minister will check in on probe into ‘passport professor’

The Inspectorate of Education will be checking in on the RUG’s investigation into ‘passport professor’ Dimitry Kochenov and his role as adviser in the controversial sale of EU passports.

By Rob Siebelink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The NOS reported this based education minister Van Engelshoven’s answers to the Lower House after a Nieuwsuur report in late September.

According to Nieuwsuur, professor and lawyer Dimitry Kochenov was paid to advise the Maltese government, which makes a lot of money off the sales of passports. Rich Russian, Chinese, and Arab people buy the EU passports for large amounts (900,000 euros each).

EU citizen

People use the Maltese passports to become EU citizens, allowing them free travel and business throughout the European Union. The General Intelligence and Security Service in the Netherlands is worried about the trade in passports, since it would make it easier for spies to get around, for example.

Minister Van Engelshoven said as much in her letter to the Lower House: ‘This programme would allow malicious people (including criminals and intelligence officers) to travel freely within the EU. This could affect national security, especially since the Netherlands is a target for espionage and unwanted influences from other countries.’

Integrity code

After the Nieuwsuur report, the RUG decided to investigate Kochenov’s business with the Maltese government. This investigation has yet to start. Van Engelshoven wrote to the Lower House that the investigation should reveal whether Kochenov obeyed the integrity code set out for academics, and whether there is (the appearance of) a conflict of interest.

The investigation must be independent, the minister says, and she would like to stay updated on its objective and conclusions. ‘I’ve asked the Inspectorate of Education to evaluate the investigation’s findings of the extracurricular activities and potential conflict of interest and to advise me on them’, the NOS quoted the minister.

Number of science students continues to increase, FSE near bursting

FSE near bursting

Number of science students continues to increase

The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) is working hard to find a solution the overcrowding probems. They’re currently at 6,500 students, but that number is projected to rise to 8,100 by 2021.

By Christien Boomsma / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

A few years ago, there were approximately eight hundred first-year students at the science faculty. These days, that number has risen to almost 1,500 and by 2024, the number of enrolments is projected to be 1,600.

‘Because the cohorts keep getting bigger, the number of second- and third-year students keeps increasing’, says FSE management controller Meeuwes Veldhuis. ‘We’re working off statistical projections, but we’ve seen a national rise of the number of high school students taking science and technical classes.’

Problems

But the faculty will not have sufficient room for these numbers of students if they don’t make any changes to the student to staff ratio or the number of classrooms. ‘We barely have enough room as it is’, says Veldhuis. ‘Our number of staff members is increasing as well. We’re really running into problems.’ The faculty has been negotiation with the RUG about a solution to the problem, including the needed extra classrooms.

Veldhuis isn’t as worried about the number of teachers they have available. He says the faculty is ‘doing well’ in that regard. Several measures have been taken to strike a balance in the student to staff ratio.

Numerus clausus

Unfortunately, the faculty only has a limited influence on the influx of students. If even more students suddenly decide to come to Groningen, this could lead to more problems. ‘A numerus clausus can be tricky’, says Veldhuis, ‘because it often leads to more students signing up for a similar programme. That doesn’t solve the problem, it just moves it.’

The faculty wants to be even stricter in its matching procedure, to potentially scare students away. ‘We could also consider recruiting. Or rather, doing a little less of that.’

City cuts 200,000 euros from RUG partnership

As yet unclear which projects will be affected

City cuts 200,000 euros from RUG partnership

The Groningen Accords, a partnership between the Groningen institutes of higher education, the province, and the municipality, will have to make do with 200,000 euros less, starting in 2021.
By Koen Marée / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
22 October om 17:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 October 2019
om 11:03 uur.
October 22 at 17:10 PM.
Last modified on October 23, 2019
at 11:03 AM.

The city of Groningen is making cutbacks to the tune of thirty million euros and is lowering its contribution. 

The Accords allow the RUG to support joint initiatives with other institutes. The funds are used to hire a project leader for At Home in Groningen, a website that informs international students about the housing market. The recent Standup Economics Festival and the International Welcome Centre North are also (partially) funded by the Accords.

Which projects will be affected by the cutbacks is as yet unclear. In early November, the seven parties involved – RUG, Hanze, UMCG, Alfa College, Noorderpoort, the province, and the municipality – will get together to discuss what will happen.

Four-year plan signed

The city is currently contributing half a million euros a year to the partnership. The other parties each contribute 125,000 euros, with the Alfa College and Noorderpoort putting in that amount as one. The total annual budget is currently 1.1 million. This will become 900,000 euros in 2021. 

The Groningen Accords were set up in 2005. Their goal was to maximise collaboration between educational institutes and the municipality. Last November, RUG president Jouke de Vries was one of the people who signed a four-year plan focusing on energy, digitisation, and healthy ageing.

‘We’d like to continue the projects set forth in the Accords’, says RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker, who bemoans the city’s cutbacks. Whether the RUG is prepared to up its contribution to compensate for the cutbacks, she couldn’t say.

Coffee at the RUG to get better and more expensive

Coffee up from 40 to 60 cents a cup

Coffee at the RUG to get better and more expensive

The university’s coffee will become better and more sustainable, but also more expensive. The RUG wants to get rid of the 150 machines it has now and switch to coffee machines that use real beans. The new coffee will cost 60 cents a cup instead of 40.
By Rob Siebelink / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
7 October om 16:29 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 8 October 2019
om 12:15 uur.
October 7 at 16:29 PM.
Last modified on October 8, 2019
at 12:15 PM.

The university will discuss the RUG’s services department’s proposal this month. The services department held a survey about coffee use at the uni, which showed that people want better quality coffee and that they’re willing to pay for that quality.

Employees will still be getting their coffee (and tea) for free. At locations that are only available to RUG staff the new machines will not be outfitted with a card reader, meaning they’ll dispense drinks for free.

Students and visitors using the machines in the RUG buildings’ hallways will be paying 60 cents for a cup, 20 cents more than the current 40.

RUG ID

But they won’t be paying with their RUG ID. The new machines will enable contactless payment with bank cards. This means people won’t have to put money on their ID cards, which the RUG expect will lead to less administrative hassle.

Every year, people order approximately 2.5 million cups of coffee from the machines. 1.8 million of these are for staff, and more than 600,000 for students and visitors.

More sustainable

The services department says raising the price of coffee to 60 cents is in line with the market: the Hanze University of Applied Sciences charges this as well. The (fair trade) coffee made from real beans is also more sustainable, which explains the price hike as well.

Some instant coffee machines may remain at especially busy locations at the university, such as exam halls. The instant machines can produce a cup of coffee in fifteen to twenty seconds, while the bean machines take three times as long. This could lead to unwanted ‘traffic jams’.

Investigation into Yantai should be finished this academic year

Council wants insight into decision-making process

Investigation into Yantai should be finished this academic year

University president Jouke de Vries hopes to be able to present the results of the long-awaited investigation into the decisions concerning Yantai to the university council before the academic year is up.
By Giulia Fabrizi / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
1 October om 9:27 uur.
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De Vries announced this last Thursday during the monthly council meeting. During the discussion of the investigation proposal, Calimero faction chair Floor Buigel asked if she would be reading the results before her year on the board was up. ‘It’s really difficult to predict the exact end date of the investigation, but I do hope we’re done by the end of the board year’, De Vries answered.

Long-awaited

In February of 2018, the university council put a stop to the plans to start a branch campus in the Chinese city of Yantai. At that time, the RUG had invested three years and three million euros into those plans. In spite of the investments, the council still had its doubts about the foreign campus’ budget and the support at the university, among other things.

Shortly after the council had voted against the plans, they asked the board of directors to investigate the project. The council wanted more clarity concerning the decision-making processes. How did a plan that had been underway for so long go so wrong?

Chairman

The entire council supported the request for the evaluation, and yet it has taken almost eighteen months before a suitable chairman was found. According to the current concept proposal for the investigation, Roel Bekker will be taking on this role.

Bekker has served as secretary-general at various Dutch ministries and was a professor of working relationships in the public sector at the University of Leiden from 2007 to 2014.

Squatters still in Heykens building (UPDATE)

‘This is an act of desperation’

Squatters still in Heykens building (UPDATE)

The group of students that occupied the vacant Heykens printing offices in the Akerkstraat are still there.
By Koen Marée / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
30 September om 13:01 uur.
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The group, which consists of approximately fifty students, occupied the building, which belongs to Henk Heykens, on Sunday afternoon. For a while it looked like the police and the city were going to evacuate them as they had closed off the street, but around eight in the evening they told the students they were allowed to stay the night in the building. Access to Heykens’ private properties on the ground floor has been restricted.

A building inspector checked the property’s safety on Monday morning. There were holes in the floor, but the squatters have since repaired those. They also installed fire extinguishers and fire alarms.

Further inspection

Further inspection into the building’s structural safety is needed. After that, the city will start talking to the squatters again, a spokesperson said. Whether that will be today or tomorrow depends on our planning.’ Whether the students will be evacuated after that the spokesperson couldn’t say.

The squatting students hung a banner that said ‘We can’t live on waiting lists’, referring to the housing crisis and the long waiting lists for social housing. ‘This is an act of desperation’, one German student said. ‘Friends of mine are currently staying in emergency housing, which they’ll have to vacate soon. And even if you do find a room, you end up paying 400 euros for seven square metres.’

Increasing number of complaints about harassment at the RUG

Confidential adviser: possible effect of #MeToo

More complaints about harassment at the RUG

Students and employees at the RUG meet with the university’s confidential adviser more than ever. Harassment complaints have especially increased over the past four years.
By Saskia Jonker / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen
25 September om 10:37 uur.
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September 25 at 10:37 AM.
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A total of 144 complaints were reported over the past year. Of these, twenty-one detailed harassment. A year earlier, only thirteen complaints concerned harassment. In 2016, the number was ten, and eight in 2016. The complaints aren’t about sexual harassment – there were eleven separate complaints about that issue – but about verbal abuse and scientific harassment, confidential adviser Marjolein Renker explains. ‘People being undermined by their supervisors, for example.’

#MeToo

Renker thinks the increase in the number of reports might also be an effect of the #MeToo movement. Fifteen of the twenty-one complaints were made by women. ‘Women might feel more motivated to speak up when they’re uncomfortable with something. That’s what lies at the core of #MeToo. It doesn’t have to entail sexual harassment.’

Then again, Renker has worked hard on her public profile over the past year, ‘so maybe people just know where to find me now. And the RUG has also been devoting attention to the subject. They organised workshops, put on a play, and the university put out a zero-tolerance statement.’

Internationals

The total number of complaints in 2017 was 114, but 129 in 2016. Renker says it’s difficult to discern any patterns in numbers this small. But what is striking is that a third of the complaints were made by internationals. Of the eleven complaints of sexual harassment, seven are from internationals students and employees.

‘I can only guess as to the cause of that, but I think it might have something to do with cultural differences’, says Renker. ‘In America, for example, harassment is a much more serious offence. Here, we tend to dismiss it more quickly, wondering if it was somehow warranted.’

What happens with the complaints depends on what the complainant wants. ‘We ask what someone wants to do and what their options are. I could join them in a conversation, for example, or I could take action or spur someone else into action. Some people just want to make a complaint and nothing else. And I won’t do anything without their permission.’