Higher education in the Netherlands does not necessarily have to refuse funding from China, in the opinion of Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. The institutions must, however, “be wary of the dangers and risks”.
Coalition party VVD asked the minister written questions following the controversy surrounding the Human Rights Centre at VU Amsterdam, which turned out to be funded by China. Is not such funding inappropriate?
According to Dijkgraaf it is not all black and white, it has emerged today. “In general, institutions must be wary of the dangers and risks associated with financial dependence”, he writes. “Precisely because of the possible undermining of academic core values (academic freedom and scientific integrity) that can stem from it.”
Concrete risks are not the only concern. “Academic freedom must always be safeguarded; even the appearance of curtailment of that freedom is undesirable.”
Not always a problem
But Chinese funding is not always a problem, he believes. Institutions must remain alert, but in his view that should not lead to “arbitrary exclusion, imputation or discrimination”. The institutions must make their own decisions, following the Nationale Leidraad Kennisveiligheid (national guide for knowledge security).
Nevertheless, the VVD is worried. Some of the people involved in the research centre legitimise human rights violations by China, the party feels. Doesn’t that undermine Dutch human rights policy?
The answer: putting forward a different standpoint cannot be considered undermining. “The Netherlands has a clear and transparent human rights policy and welcomes an active and critical debate on this important topic”, Dijkgraaf believes. “In the context of academic freedom, researchers are free to adopt a position that differs from Dutch government policy. That is what distinguishes us from more restrictive countries.”
But you have to be transparent about “possible dependencies” when investigating human rights. “Especially with regard to funding by parties that are themselves a subject of concern in this area.”
Today the minister is discussing internationalisation in education and science with the House of Representatives. We will then know whether the largest coalition party has been reassured.