Minister takes universities to task over lack of sponsor transparency: FD


Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has said he is ‘shocked’ at the lack of financial transparency which surrounds the funding of professorships at Dutch universities.

The minister responded to research done by the Financieele Dagblad which showed almost 700 external investors, including 200 private sector companies, finance a fifth of all university chairs.

It took the paper almost a year to find out where the money came from because universities themselves did not know which chairs benefited from external funding and which professors were involved.

Dijkgraaf said academic research depends on money from the related fields but who pays what must be a matter of public accountability. ‘This sort of information should be up to date and available online,’ he told the Financieele Dagblad.

Dijkgraaf, who recently presented a list of funded chairs to MPs which turned out to be incomplete and to contain non-existent professorships, said he is ‘frustrated’ about the state of affairs and would contemplate a legal requirement if the current university integrity code fails to guarantee openness about funding.

The lack of transparency – the FD failed to uncover the source for funding of ‘dozens of chairs’ – may compromise ‘knowledge security’ and open up research to ‘foreign influences and spying’,  Dijkgraaf said.

Tobacco or fossil?

Also in question are ‘undesirable’ sources for funding, such as the tobacco industry, or the fossil fuel industry, the FD said, but Dijkgraaf said that sponsor choice is not within his remit. ‘A minister of a different political persuasion would have different views. Universities have to be able to make a balanced decision independently,’ he said.

Dijkgraaf said his powers as a minister do allow him to make sure that the balance between chairs that are funded from outside and those that are not is kept.

‘Certain subjects are not interesting for certain groups but are important to society and so we have to continue with publicly funded research. But know if we have a balance we need to have clarity about who is funding what,’ he told the paper.

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