‘Yantai’ still on: what now?
The RUG board originally planned to establish a branch campus in the Chinese city of Yantai, where the faculties of Spatial Sciences (FSS) and Science and Engineering (FSE) would provide education. Then in January, the university council declared it wouldn’t agree to the plans.
That doesn’t mean the Yantai project was shut down altogether: at FSE, a special programme team is researching other, more small-scale collaboration options.
‘This team was initially created to manage all the FSE plans for Yantai’, says Dirk-Jan Scheffers, associate professor of biology and member of the personnel faction in the university council. ‘The idea was that if the branch campus plans didn’t go through as planned, the team members could be used elsewhere in the organisation.’
But the team was never dissolved, and at the request of the RUG board has been exploring further collaboration options between China and Groningen, such as research projects or double degree programmes. In a double degree programme, universities in different countries work on a single educational programme together. Students receive part of their education in a foreign country, and receive a diploma from both educational institutes.
‘How is it being paid for?’
The personnel faction has been asking for more information about the programme team. ‘What is the team doing exactly, and what will it be doing in the future?’, Scheffen sums up their questions. ‘And how is it being paid for?’ That’s especially important; the university council has a right to decide on the RUG budget whenever the expenditures exceed 500,000 euros.
‘We know the preparations for the branch campus were paid for with private funds. Now the board is saying that the team’s work falls into the category of “regular activities”, which means they should be paid with public funds. But we never saw any of that on the budget, when there’s a possibility we actually have a right to decide on this.’
And so Scheffers and his fellow council member Kristina Linke, with the science faction, keep asking the same questions during every council meeting: what’s the deal with the Yantai team, and what are the costs involved? So far, the board hasn’t responded.
‘They keep promising to give us more information and then they postpone’, says Scheffers. ‘First, they promised to tell us before the summer. Then, they were going to give us the details in September. But it’s already October and we still don’t know anything.’
The FSE faculty board usually provides the faculty council with information, says council member Bea Zand Scholten. ‘And once every six months or so we ask Bart van de Laar, the head of the programme team, to catch us up. The latest thing we’ve been told is that the board of directors will continue to fund the team for now. They’re researching the viability of double degrees in Yantai, either with the China Agricultural University or another university.’
The team also organises so-called matchmaking seminars, Zand Scholten says: conferences and networking events where Chinese and Groningen academics can meet each other. In June, they organised such a seminar on the conversion of biomass into fuel, and this winter there will be one on food and health.
Zand Scholten doesn’t know when the team will be finished. ‘We can’t set up a plan until the Chinese minister of education signs off on it.’ Permission from the faculty council is not needed for any joint degree programme plans, says Zand Scholten. ‘They’ve never had to consent to programmes like that’. Dean Jasper Knoester has promised to discuss a joint educational programme with the council should plans ever arise.
‘The people on the team are just doing their jobs, and we can’t blame them for that’, says Scheffers. But it’s the lack of communication that bothers him. ‘There’s a group of people still actively working on Yantai, but we have no idea how large that group is. There are still too many people who don’t know what’s going on.’
He is referring to the situation a few years ago, when there were numerous concerns about the branch campus that went unanswered.
Is the university council deliberately being kept in the dark? Scheffers won’t go that far. ‘Let me say this: when the Yantai project was cancelled, we clearly said that future communication should be better. But I don’t think anyone’s listening to us.’
FSE dean Jasper Knoester was unavailable to comment. Bart van de Laar with the programme team refused to respond, aside from saying in an email that it’s ‘too early’ for that.