Police evict protesting students and academics

The University of Amsterdam called in the police on 11 April to forcibly remove protesting students and staff who had spent the previous six weeks occupying the university’s senate house – Maagdenhuis.

Students had planned to hold a ‘festival of science and humanities’ over the weekend but this was disrupted when the university’s executive board asked the city council to evict the occupiers. More than 500 academics who have supported the students are now calling on the board to resign.

The protesting students, staff and other sympathisers were forced out of the senate house by police who, students claimed, used rough methods. Eleven students were arrested and one police officer was injured.

But students said the eviction was unnecessary and that a potential way out of the conflict existed with the establishment of two committees with representatives of the protesters. The committees were to investigate matters that included allegations of economic speculation concerning university properties and other claims of mismanagement.

University run as a ‘for-profit factory’

Students had earlier said that a culture of “rendement [efficiency and production] thinking” was prevalent and that Amsterdam was being run “not as a university but more as a for-profit factory”. Following eviction of the protesters, 1,000 students and staff paraded through Amsterdam, many in their academic robes, and gave short speeches.

In an open letter on 13 April, professors Ewald Engelen and Olav Velthuis criticised the executive board for using “brute force” against the protesting students at a time when a peaceful end of the occupation was in sight.

The board had made a “magical blunder” by calling in the police, the academics said.

But board chairperson Louise Gunning-Schepers said the board had to act because more than 700 people were registered to take part in activities in the senate building during the weekend when it could only house 300.

Education spending down

Meanwhile, a local newspaper published statistics comparing public spending on education by the present Rutte cabinet compared to the last period of the De Jong cabinet in 1971. The figures showed that the present government spent 5.3% of gross domestic product, or GDP, on education last year compared with 6.4% in 1971, at a time when spending in several other areas has increased.

In parliament, Labour Party MPs called on Education Minister Jet Bussemaker to withdraw plans for legislation that would allow universities to charge higher fees for some categories of students.

The plan was drawn up by the previous government, but it has split the opposition parties and observers say it is unlikely to be adopted.