The quality challenge

Conference about Massification Higher Education and Widening Participation: The Quality Challenge

Carole Leathwood, Barbara Read, Marijk van der Wende, Baukje Prins, Ron Bormans, Joeri van den Steenhoven and Paul van der Heijden, you have told us a lot about higher education, massification, quality and diversity. My presentation at the end of this conference deals with the same subjects and I will try to find some different points of view. I hope you recognise this as my favourite behaviour! However, can I make a difference with all the intellectual power present in this room when I give some attention to the mainstream of thinking about these topics? This mainstream is not the best breeding ground for massification, diversity and an open learning process. In the end I will make some remarks about the value of higher education.

If you enter the museum of slavery in Capetown or you do the same in Havanna you can listen to lots of stories of black people. At both sides of the Atlantic Ocean you will see huge maps on the walls that show the trade in African people. They show the transport of millions of people; many of them died before they even arrived. In the nineteenth century Dutch ministers preached about the differences between the white and black race. God had elected the whites to be superior to the blacks.
It is not very difficult to see the connection between the many cruelties in the European history and the Christian religion. Whites thought of themselves as special people. The preachers told us the whites had the duty to govern the rest of the world. It is only five generations before I was born that this story was common in our country. In Surabaya I visited the monument that remembers us of the declaration of independency by Sukarno, august 17 1945. Thereafter the Netherlands started the so called ‘politionele acties’ against this country. According to the Indonesian people that was a war and many people died. Was one Dutch soldier ever accused of war crimes? No, our government always thought this was normal and we simply had the duty to govern the people of Indonesia. That was only two years before I was born.

Then there was the storytelling of my grandmother. I loved her and she helped me a lot with my dyslectic problem. She took the time to teach me to read and write my first words. She told me a lot of stories and shared her view on South Africa. You suppose she may have told me about ‘Apartheid’. But no, she was angry because during de ‘Boerenoorlog’ the English had stolen this country from the Dutch. I never heard her speak about the black people of South-Africa. I only heard her speak about the Englishmen. The superiority of the whites was obvious for her.

When I was a boy of ten years old I read all the books of Arendsoog, a blue eyed hero, a strong clever big white man, something like 007 avant la lettre. In the fifties many of the Dutch boys read those books. I was the chairman of the club ‘Friends of Arendsoog’; five boys from my school talked about the adventures of that admirable man. Every bush could hide a danger, a rattle snake or an Indian. Arendsoog solved every problem! Wow! That looked great to a boy of ten.
These books fitted with the cultural and mental climate of the fifties in the Netherlands. A white superior American cowboy who was free to travel and to live where he wanted. He was free to shoot everywhere he wanted to solve a problem. I want to emphasize that in middleclass families with a strong Christian belief, these books were normal readings, they belonged to the heart of Dutch culture.
When I was twenty I recognized that the stories told in these books were based on a particular idea of diversity: you may even call it racism. Afterwards I read the books of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Albert Camus and I came to the understanding that the theory of superiority was not valid. It was my generation that recognized the false simplicity of black/white thinking. It is one of the achievements of the sixties.

With these examples I would like to illustrate that our generation was raised with a strong ethnocentric belief based on racism. This way of thinking is our background. The President of the United States reacted upon 9/11 like he was blue eyed Arendsoog: “Behind every rock or bush there may be danger. This is a problem I will solve by myself and I’m going to do it now. I’ll make the rules; the target is more important than the means and only the results count”.
A way of putting targets and of outcome oriented thinking. Do you recognize the modern form of management theories? The differences between the strategy of the army and the strategy of the CEO are smaller than we thought or hoped.

Universities in Europe have to deal with this history full of racism. It is deeply rooted in our culture. Not easy for universities who want to teach their students a thorough understanding of humanity. Our university houses many second and third generation migrants from the Arabic and North African world. The Hague University has international students of almost all countries of the world. We have a lot of political refugees too. Some of them told me heartbreaking stories. One student and her boyfriend demonstrated in Teheran against the regime of Iran. The secret police threatened them and they had to flee to Europe. In The Netherlands this student had to wait several years before she was allowed to go to the university. But her medical study in Teheran was not acknowledged and she started in our university for her bachelor degree. She was a student in my class, very intelligent and she performed excellent. After a year she told me that at first she only had one enemy: the secret service of Iran but now she has two. The Iranian secret service follows her even in the Netherlands and the Dutch secret service think of her as a potential terrorist.
Do you know the Dutch secret service wrote a report for the Dutch parliament about the risk of terrorism in The Netherlands? Their conclusion was that the risk is very high if young Muslim people are highly educated. This university has the highest concentration of Islamic young people in the Netherlands and they indeed are very clever. If our secret service is to be believed you are now in the most risky building of the Netherlands. But I am sure that we also have a very high concentration of Dutch secret service employees. All of them like Arendsoog or 007. So we will survive and you will leave this building safely.

The mainstream in Dutch thinking about diversity was rather a hindrance for the development of many people until the sixties, for example migrants like the Moluccas and for women. A lot has changed for the good since 1960. Nowadays there are more women and more migrant students in higher education. Young people look at the world more open than past generations. However, I also notice an undercurrent to plea for a step back. That undercurrent is most obvious in the intolerance towards the Islam. The geopolitical landslide toward Asia is bigger than we held possible until recently. A misplaced sense of superiority blinds us. It is the fastest way to bring misfortune to Europe. We need every talent on all levels and our teachers will have to learn to use the advantages of the diversity of the student population. Last year I opened the university year by speaking about massification of higher education and the challenge of maintaining a high quality. The increasing massification causes more diversity but of course there is a huge difference when 25% of the population enter higher education or 50% or even more. To handle diversity in all its forms is a very important challenge for this university. And for the development of our society it is a sine qua non.

During the last ten years I have emphasized that education pushes technology and prosperity. I emphasized that the goal for higher education is not to prepare for the first job, not for just one job. The aim of higher education is to prepare for a career of 45 years instead of the first job and we prepare our students to become world citizens instead of citizens of The Hague. To reach this goal it is important to evaluate and renew our undergraduate programmes. We have to replace a part of the vocational training into more reflective and critical thinking and in a better understanding of humanity. If we want our students to really cooperate with all kinds of people, if we want our students to have a critical understanding of our culture, if we want our students to recognize the myth of an ethnocentric world view, we have to emphasize it.

I want to propose one important improvement in our undergraduate programmes: all students have to study abroad for half a year. Train them to evaluate Dutch culture. Show them the identity of Europe by taking a position abroad. Give them the opportunity to cooperate with all the races of the world. Teach them the idea of freedom of the individual and justice for everyone. We have borders to keep people outside the Netherlands, but reality is that our borders keep Dutch students in the Netherlands. That can be a big problem for the quality of our universities so send them to Shanghai, Pretoria or Rio. And if they come back we will have citizens who are better prepared for the future.

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