On June 11, a debate about ‘the future of the university’ was held at Tilburg University, organized by Academic Forum on behalf of the university’s executive board. This debate was eventually organized after a number of critical academics of the university launched a petition a year earlier, criticizing the executive board for a lack of academic vision. Eventually, after much persistence, their call for open debate about the university was honoured.[1] During the debate on June 11, representatives from six national and local organizations where invited to share their perspectives: Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten, Science in Transition, Beter Onderwijs Nederland, Rethink Tilburg, New University Tilburg, and ‘Research first: for a better university’ (the critical academics who called for open debate, represented by Eric van Damme).In addition to that, VSNU was suddenly included in the program a week before the debate, to present their new vision on education. They did so at the beginning of the debate. After the six contributions, Koen Becking, president of Tilburg University’s executive board, was to give a response to the six contributions.


However, we observed that the response that Koen Becking gave only directly referred to the presentation of VSNU. The six contributions of the organizations were effectively neglected. It seemed as if the six representatives, some of whom have been leading voices in the debate on higher education on a national level, had not been there at all. The students of New University Tilburg and the academics of Rethink Tilburg express disappointment in this nonfulfillment of the executive board to take these carefully prepared contributions on the future of the university and higher education serious.

The university’s executive board should be capable and be able to give a clear and thoughtful response to questions, analysis, criticism and suggestions in a debate on the university, especially during a public debate at which many members of the academic community of Tilburg University and of various other universities were present. Since our president did not do so and effectively overlooked the contributions of the speakers in his response, we suggest that Koen Becking gives a written response to these six contributions.[2] We are especially interested in a response to the critical academics of TiU represented at the debate by Eric van Damme, since it was their call for open debate that led to this event. We are very happy that this open debate has been made possible, that it was held on our university and that our executive board was present. Nevertheless, we do feel that a response which more clearly takes into account the six contributions during this debate is needed.


We ask our executive board’s president to present this written response before June 25, which is exactly two weeks after the debate of June 11. We are convinced that this is a fair deadline, especially since Koen Becking has had many months to prepare for this debate, and was supposed to give a spontaneous response to the six contributions during the debate anyway.


Furthermore, we invite the executive board to elaborate on how to follow up on this debate about ‘the future of the university’. Which conclusions can be drawn from the debate as a whole? Which conclusions can be drawn from the many comments, questions and suggestions by students and academics during the hour of open debate with the audience during the second half of the program? What are the implications for the future? How and in which forms can open debate be continued in the university?



New University Tilburg & Rethink Tilburg

[1] In December 2014, these academics also wrote a paper in which they called for more open debate in the university; the executive board then discouraged this paper from being made public. The paper was made public by New University Tilburg in April with permission of the authors.

[2] The written response is to be emailed to the six organisations or to the individuals who represented them on June 11.