Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment in academic research and education

Today, Tuesday April 6 2021, is ‘Alarm Day’; a day on which the teaching and research staff, students, administrators and alumni of all 14 Dutch research universities will be congregating to call on the new government to structurally invest 1.1 billion euros in academic research and education. Since 2000 student numbers have doubled, while government funding per student has decreased by 25%. In addition research funding has not kept up with the growth in student numbers and increasingly has to be obtained via competitive research grant applications. Hence, there is a structural lack of time and financial means for high-quality research and high-quality teaching. As a result of underfunding, students no longer receive the education they deserve, while teaching and research staff are struggling to cope. So on Alarm Day we address this situation and propose to work towards a Normal Academic Standard. For more information, please check https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/ (or https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/english for the English version).

One of the activities the organizers of the Alarm Day ask us to undertake is to share our personal stories. That is what I will do in this blog, thereby also expressing my support for today’s Alarm Day and the call for a structural investment in university research and education.

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment

I was appointed as Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University in November 2004. Within our university system, being chair means that you are responsible for the financial situation of your chair group. Due to the way the funding of education has been organized at Wageningen University, our education income does largely keep up with growing student numbers. However, the downside is that there is hardly any funding for research. Annually our chair group gets approximately k€ 330 basic university funding (formally labelled as research funding), yet our costs for accommodation, materials, travel and overheads are equal to or exceed that, hence there is no funding for research. So to make sure that the annual operating result of my group is not negative, there are basically two options: we only teach (and make sure that the revenues from teaching plus basic funding cover the salary costs and other costs) or we obtain external funding for research (including PhD projects). We have continuously focused on the latter option (also because the first option de facto means that the key characteristic of academic education, i.e. the link between research and teaching, ceases to exist) and have been quite successful at that, BUT:

  • Over the years grant schemes have become increasingly competitive, and thus our success rate has gradually declined from approximately 50% 10-15 years ago to less than 25% at present (while the quality, based on evaluation scores, has only improved). This means that an increasing share of our research time is spent on writing proposals that do not get funded.
  • A lot of the grant writing has to be done in the evenings, weekends and holidays, simply because a) a 40 hour working week is not enough to do everything I need or am expected to do, and b) most deadlines for submitting proposals are just after the Christmas and summer holidays.
  • Due to the continuous financial pressure of obtaining external research funding I am almost permanently busy with grant writing and actually do not have enough time for the projects I did manage to get funded. And the time I have available is largely spent on project coordination, not on research;
  • A lot of our research projects are funded by the European Commission. In the EC’s framework programs (e.g. Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe) we see a gradual shift in funding focus from understanding problems and challenges to developing and implementing solutions, in other words from research to innovation and (societal) impact. Funding for curiosity driven and risky research has to come from personal grants (ERC, VENI/VIDI/VICI) or grants for training networks (e.g. Marie Curie Training Networks), and these schemes are even more competitive (with success rates between 2 and 10%).
  • Until recently I was ‘promotor’ (main supervisor) of >25 PhD projects and it is simply impossible to be sufficiently involved in all. Most of the supervision is done by daily supervisors (assistant and associate professors), who all do a great job at this, but for me PhD supervision was way more interesting when I only had a few PhD students. Yet, for financial reasons it is important that within our group we have 4 to 5 PhD graduations per year. Therefore we still have 25 to 30 PhD students, but as a few colleagues have ius promovendi (the right to award a PhD) I no longer have to be the promotor of all. So this helps to reduce my workload a bit, but doesn’t change the perverse incentive that a steady inflow and outflow of PhD students is important for financial reasons.

Will 1.1 billion Euro of structural funding solve all problems?

Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’. It will certainly help to reduce the reliance on external research funding and reduce work pressure if we can appoint more staff members who can carry out their teaching and research tasks and activities within their work week. But we also need to address a few other issues:

  • In addition to this structural investment a large share of the research funding that is now distributed via competitive grant schemes (NWO and EU for example) should go directly to academic staff: so less time wasted on proposals that do not get funded, less work pressure and more funded time for curiosity driven research;
  • A new recognition and reward system that once and for all gets rid of the publish or perish culture (or generally speaking the output performance culture) that has dominated academia in the last 25 years. Especially the current publication and PhD supervision criteria that our Tenure Trackers need to comply with only contribute to more publications and more PhD students to be supervised.
  • The time and energy consuming bureaucracy that we need to work in and which is largely based on institutionalized distrust, as if endless procedures, evaluation rubrics, assessment forms, and checks and balances will help us to become better lecturers and researchers.
  • Related to that is the time that we are spending on writing self-evaluation reports (and to that we add mid-term self-evaluation reports) for peer review committees (peer reviews of our BSc and MSc programs or of our research program). Don’t get me wrong, I really value getting feedback from peers if we can also honestly and openly share our struggles and challenges and then get constructive feedback on how to do things better. However what we are actually asked to do is to write marketing brochures to boast about our excellence, so that university management can show to the outside world how many ‘top programs’ and ‘world leading’ research units it has. And this also means that a negative evaluation (which is basically anything below ‘excellent’) will haunt you until the next peer review.

What have I decided to do to reduce my work pressure?

In addition to keep on addressing the structural causes of work pressure I have decided to do the following:

  • I will not write any project proposal until the current Horizon 2020 project I am coordinating is finished and I have the time and energy to write a new proposal;
  • I will no longer write research grants for financial reasons, but only because I want to (for curiosity reasons, because it allows me to hire PhD candidates and/or postdocs, because it enables me to collaborate with colleagues in other countries, et cetera).
  • I will not accept new PhD students until the number I am responsible has dropped below 10 and that will remain the maximum number.
  • I will publish less and review no more than two papers per paper I have submitted as (co-)author (and review no more than 3 research proposals per proposal I have submitted for review).

I realize that I am in a privileged position (permanent contract, no Tenure Track criteria to comply with and chair of a group that does really well in teaching and research) to take these decisions, but hopefully it is seen as leading by example.

75th Anniversary: 26) History and Sociology

Chair excursion to the peat-area in Drenthe (beginning of the eighties). From left to right: Aart Snel (our secretary), Ad van der Woude, Willibrord Rutte, Jouke Wigboldus, Jaap Buis and Henk Roessingh. On his back with the Edelman-drill: Jan Bieleman. Next to him one of our students. The photo was taken by Anton Schuurman.

By Anton Schuurman, Rural and Environmental History

The fame of the chair group Rural History brought me in 1978 to Wageningen. The Wageningen history group was at that time different from all the others history groups in the Netherlands – it was doing social science history, history as a social science with the methods of the social sciences with as its most characteristic feature the use of quantitative methods and statistics. It is still the message of our group: ‘We apply comparative historical methods to better understand long-term patterns of interdependence between people, institutions and environments. Our empirical work builds on a combination of qualitative sources and large statistical datasets, which we construct from historical archives across the globe.’ – it reads on our internet page. Although nowadays part of the section Economics of the Social Sciences Group – perhaps partly due to the fact that the heirs of Hofstee seem to have lost interest in doing quantitative work – , the chair group owned its existence to the tenacity of the same Hofstee (as so many of the social sciences chairs in Wageningen do) who succeeded finally in 1956 to lure Slicher van Bath away from Groningen to Wageningen.

Hofstee was a history-orientated sociologist (well, social geographer), as was explained earlier in these blogs, who later named his own way of doing sociology: encompassing sociology (differentiële sociologie – see  blog 5. In blog 5 the English translation is differential sociology. I prefer encompassing sociology – a term from Charles Tilly (Tilly, 1984; Schuurman, 1996), which in my view better captures Hofstee’s intention, although I suspect that Hofstee himself saw the title as  a reference to La vocation actuelle de la sociologie. Vers la sociologie différentielle (1957) by Georges Gurvitch).

Hofstee’s work played a large role in our work at RHi– he was our favourite scape goat. As all the sociologist he thought that the world had only changed in the 19th century – the famous process of modernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation. Before that – it were the Middle Ages, people working since time immemorial by the sweat of one’s brow. How wrong he was, how wrong the sociologist are. Slicher revealed the process of proto-industrialisation in Overijssel in the eighteenth century; Roessingh, using Chayanov far before Jan Douwe rediscovered him, demonstrated how the farmers on the Veluwe adapted their farming practices in their search for security; Van der Woude showed that the nuclear family was the default family in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Holland, Bieleman revealed the many changes in agriculture in Drenthe instead of the eternal rye cultivation  (“eeuwige roggebouw”). I could go on. The sociologists made us feel pretty smart.

I have to confess that my attitude to Hofstee was a bit different. Of course, he was a sociologist and prejudice-ridden, but for my work on the material culture of the Dutch countryside I was inspired by his encompassing sociology. I admired and admire his three-volume book Differentiële sociologie. It can still be used, maybe especially by global sociologists. Hofstee was my hero next to Elias, Bourdieu, Benjamin and Giedeon. But I was also influenced by other Wageningen sociologists – most of all by Rien Munters who had written his book Rising and declining cultural goods (Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen) (Munters, 1977). He claimed that in a real open society goods would diffuse in every social direction – but, in fact, even in the famous open society of the seventies he found just one rising good: rolling one’s own tobacco. In the nineteenth century countryside I also found just one: the sewing machine.

Later Munters had an even larger influence on me by letting me join the Giddens-circle, where I read together with Gert Spaargaren, Peter Oosterveer, Jan van Tatenhove, Tuur Mol, Frans von Benda-Beckmann and many others, contemporary sociologists from Giddens to Baumann, Urry  and Elden-Vass. The historian I became, I became because of Wageningen and of the Wageningen sociology group.

PS When I may do a public appeal: Sociology was so much more than Hofstee. I would like to read stories about or from his staff -members – Nooij, Kooy, De Ru, Benvenutti, Van der Ban, Munters, Wichers and many others – who wrote sometimes books that did become classics and who taught and influenced generations of sociologists. I remember Piet Holleman who not only made all the maps for the sociology group, but also for us; Corry Rothuizen who was at the department sociology when Hofstee worked there, and who is still working for Environmental Policy; Henk van Espelo who made the cartophoot-map that is still to see in the Leeuwenborch – there certainly will be other person who could write about them.  I personally have less knowledge of the non-Western sociology group, but I would love to hear, e.g., a story on Rudy van Lier, direct colleague of Hofstee, as non-Western sociologist, but so different from him.

  • Munters, Q. J. (1977). Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen. De “open” samenleving ter discussie. Alphen aan den Rijn 1977 Samsom.
  • Schuurman, Anton. (1996). Mensen maken verschil. Sociale theorie, historische sociologie en geschiedenis. Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis, 22(2), 168-205.
  • Tilly, Charles. (1984). Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons. New York 1984 Russell sage foundation.

MSc thesis opportunity: A multi-method approach to assess the sustainability of the quinoa value chain in France

Duration: 6 months

Languages: English and French

Credits: 33-36 ECTS (programme dependent)

Start Date: As soon as possible

Quinoa is experiencing a global expansion of cultivation all around the world. France is one the most important producers of quinoa in Europe. Yet the sustainability of French quinoa production systems remains under-researched. This includes familiar debates of organic versus conventional production, as well as the viability of ‘farm to fork’ transportation and distribution systems.

The MSc candidate will assess the sustainability of the quinoa value chain in France. The candidate will conduct interviews with members of the cooperative “Quinoa d’Anjou” assessing the sustainability combining quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Following the current restrictions, the interviews will be conducted online.

Objectives:

  • Combining quantitative and qualitative data to assess the sustainability of quinoa value chain of the cooperative of Anjou in France.
  • Conduct a Life Cycle Assessment testing the MEANS program. Training will be provided.

Supervision team:

  • Mark Vicol, Assistant Professor in RSO
  • Federico Andreotti, PhD Candidate in GRS

Advisors:

  • Didier Bazile, researcher at CIRAD, France
  • Cécile Bessou, researcher at CIRAD, France

Relevant literature:

  • Alandia, G., Rodriguez, J. P., Jacobsen, S. E., Bazile, D., & Condori, B. (2020). Global expansion of quinoa and challenges for the Andean region. Global Food Security, 26, 100429.
  • Bazile, D., Jacobsen, S. E., & Verniau, A. (2016). The global expansion of quinoa: trends and limits. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7, 622.
  • Jouini, M., Burte, J., Biard, Y., Benaissa, N., Amara, H., & Sinfort, C. (2019). A framework for coupling a participatory approach and life cycle assessment for public decision-making in rural territory management. Science of the Total Environment, 655, 1017-1027.

Requirements:

  • Interest in Agroecology studies, value chain studies and/or sustainable development
  • Interests and/or knowledge of food value chains: production, processing, distribution
  • Skills for conducting interviews remotely and data analysis
  • French language fluency is required.

If interested please contact federico.andreotti@wur.nl

75th Anniversary: 25) De Stad-Platteland Tegenstelling

Door Henk Oostindie

In de jubileum publicatie rondom ons 25 jarig bestaan leverde Lijfering een bijdrage onder de titel ‘het rural-urban continuüm in het licht van sociale veranderingen’. In die bijdrage gaat Leifferink in op de zin en onzin van dichotomisch denken en de noodzaak om de begrippen stad-en platteland als ideaaltypen te beschouwen. Vertrekkende vanuit het centrale begrip menselijke nederzetting, verwijst Lijfering naar de volgende drie dominante onderscheidende kenmerken: het fysieke milieu, de sociale interactie en het cultuurpatroon. Naast deze in zijn ogen verhelderende invalshoeken om stad en platteland als anachronismen nader te duiden, komt Leifering met het voorstel om meer expliciet aandacht te besteden aan wat hij benoemt als ‘functionele stad-platteland patronen’. Continue reading

Conviviality virtual conference June 1-7, 2021 – Call for abstracts

The Conviviality conference is co-hosted by the Massey University Political Ecology Research Centre (PERC) and the Wageningen University Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS).

The virtual conference will be from June 1-7, 2021. When interested to participate, please send a 250 word abstract with your name, e-mail address, and affiliation to masseyPERC@gmail.com by Monday, April 5, 2021. Proposals for panels and (digital) roundtable discussions are also welcome. If you would like to propose a panel, please send us a short panel rationale and details of panel participants. Innovative formats are encouraged.

For information see: https://perc.ac.nz/wordpress/conviviality/

Webinar: Towards a Gaian agriculture

‘Towards a Gaian agriculture’ – Dr Anna Krzywoszynska.

Date: 28th April 2021Time: 15.00 CET

This talk is concerned with the role for agri-environmental social sciences in understanding the new human condition called by some “the Anthropocene”, and what I increasingly think of as the challenge of living with Gaia. How have we become so lost that our most fundamental relationship with the environment, food getting, has come to undermine both our futures and those of our environments? And what is needed to build a new pact between humans and living ecosystems? I have been exploring these questions specifically in relation to soil as an existentially and conceptually crucial matter. In this paper, I examine modern farming as built on multiple alienations, and propose the conditions under which re-connection and a building agricultures which work with Gaia may become possible.

Register online via this link
Or check out the YouTube streaming link

This talk is the second in Wageningen University Rural Sociology Group’s 75 years anniversary seminar series “Looking back, Looking Forward: Setting a future agenda for rural sociology”. For more information see our full agenda here.


YouTube streaming link:

75th Anniversary: 24) Rural Sociology and the making of the Health and Society Group

The inaugural lecture by Maria Koelen upon taking up the post of Professor of Health and Society at Wageningen University on 10 March 2011 (source: Health and Society website)

By Maria Koelen (Professor Emeritus of the chairgroup Health and Society)

Belief it or not, but the young Health and Society Group has its origin in the 75 years old Rural Sociology of Wageningen University. In fact, Professor Evert Willem Hofstee, the founder of Rural Sociologie (1946) as has been mentioned often in this blog, started to pave the road to it. The Agricultural University (at the time Landbouw Hogeschool) developed a lot of scientific, technological and economic insights for farming practice, which was transferred to the farmers through agricultural extension educators employed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The prevailing idea was that farmers would appreciate these insights and, from a kind of self-interest, would apply these insights into their daily practice. However, as Hofstee argued in 1953, just transferring these insights to the farmers would not suffice. He advocated an additional, sociological approach and to pay attention to social groups and culture. This idea caught on with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. To operationalise the idea, in 1955 the Ministry seconded its employee Anne Van Den Ban to the Rural Sociology group to advance this type of research. With his appointment, the foundation has been laid for a new interdisciplinary field “extension education”, in Dutch “Voorlichtingskunde”. In 1963 Van Den Ban obtained his PhD under supervision of Professor Hofstee and in 1964 he was appointed to be the first professor in this field. Continue reading

Stage mogelijkheid voor studenten met agrarische affiniteit

Dirksen Management Support

Bij agrarisch adviesbureau Dirksen Management Support brengen we melkveehouders uit heel Nederland bij elkaar in agrarische studiegroepen. Het doel? Leren van elkaars ervaringen, vergelijken van bedrijfsresultaten en discussiëren over bedrijfsstijlen en keuzes. Om de meest leerzame en interessante gesprekken te creëren, maken wij onze groepsindelingen op basis van regio’s. Met als resultaat dat onze boeren kunnen sparren over problemen die voor hun van toepassing zijn. Daarnaast geeft deze indeling op een juiste manier weer hoe boeren presteren in relatie tot vergelijkbare andere bedrijven. Dit houdt je als melkveehouder scherp en geeft relevante inzichten. Zowel in onderdelen waar het bedrijf goed presteert of waar nog kansen liggen die benut kunnen worden. Ons motto luidt dan ook: “Alleen ben je sneller, samen kom je verder!”

Dirksen Management Support werkt al vanaf 1996 met gegevens vanaf het melkveebedrijf. Dit heeft geleid tot een enorme dosis ervaring en kennis op het gebied van verwerking van deze data. Naast studiegroep begeleiding werkt DMS voornamelijk veel samen in projecten voor de kringloopwijzer. De kringloopwijzer loopt als een rode draad door het melkveebedrijf heen. Op basis van kringloopwijzercijfers komt er veel informatie naar voren over oogst-, rantsoen-, en efficiëntie resultaten. Meer recentelijk zijn er ook samenwerkingen omtrent CO2, biodiversiteit, mestbeleid (BEP-pilot). Enkele hoofdonderwerpen die besproken worden zijn: Kringloopwijzer, Bodembeheer, Voermanagement en nog veel meer… Voor kringloopwijzers heeft DMS een geavanceerd systeem ontwikkeld waarmee de cijfers gecontroleerd en verwerkt worden tot analyses in compacte overzichten. Niet alleen het analyseren van data, maar ook het begeleiden van project groepen en het managen van projecten in het algemeen is een onderdeel binnen Dirksen Management Support.

Wanneer je stage loopt bij Dirksen Management Support krijg je de kans om een kijkje te nemen bij de brede taken van het bedrijf. Bij het deelnemen aan studiegroepen leer je veel van de sociale kanten en het overbrengen van kennis richting de boer. Onderzoek kan worden gedaan naar het innovatietraject richting kringlooplandbouw, het gebruik van nieuwe technologieën in de landbouw, acceptatie richting kringlooplandbouw voor zowel boer als consument, bewustwording van “the need to develop” voor de boer, communicatie strategieën voor boeren en consument, etc. Mocht je liever met het data bestand en cijfers werken voor een wat meer Bèta onderzoek kan dat natuurlijk ook! Ideeën voor onderwerpen zijn welkom!

Profiel kandidaat

We zijn op zoek naar een student met affiniteit voor de agrarische sector. Een student die gemakkelijk contact legt met zowel de boer als andere actoren in de sector. Om die rede zoeken we dan ook een student die goed Nederlands spreekt.

Nog steeds geïnteresseerd? Mail ons, inclusief je CV en interesse voor een stageonderwerp. Wat zijn jou skills die je graag zou willen toepassen bij DMS, of willen verbeteren? Wanneer zou je willen beginnen en hoe lang wil je stage lopen? We zijn benieuwd!

Contact

  • Kim Hahn, kimhahn@dmsadvies.nl
  • Hans Dirksen hansdirksen@dmsadvies.nl

Voor de aanvang van deze stage neem je contact op met Jessica de Koning (Thesis.RSO@wur.nl) voor een intake om begeleider en goedkeuring te krijgen voor de stage.

75th Anniversary: 23) On RSO education: 75 years teaching rural sociology

Diving into the archives of Wageningen University Library, I stumbled upon overviews and information on education. I was particularly interested in the teaching of rural sociology at the university. This is the first of a few blogs on RSO Education: the historical overview of sociology and specifically rural sociology at the Wageningen University timeline.

The pre-sociology era (1918-1956)

First students at the Landbouwhogeschool in 1879 (source: wur.nl)

In 1918, the Wageningen University was still called the Landbouwhogeschool (Agricultural College). Students could choose 5 study programmes: Dutch Agriculture, Dutch Horticulture, Dutch Forestry, Colonial Agriculture and Colonial Forestry. These remained the study programmes of the university for 24 years. It was not until 1945 that the university evolved into wider oriented institute. In 1946, sociology gained grounds through a new study programme on home economics. In his book chapter, Kooy (1971) calls this an “entrance in disguise” sociology was always marked with the adjective “agrarian”.  This marked the beginning of sociology in the educational programmes of the university. In 1956, The university added 11 new study programmes to the Wageningen university. Two of these additions were the study programmes Agrarian Sociology and Agrarian Sociology of Non-Western Areas. Continue reading

Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy

Open letter of European scholars to (in English, French and Spanish):

  • Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission
  • Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture,
  • Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament.

Re: ‘Farmers for the Future’

Wageningen, 10th of March 2021

 

Dear Sirs,

In 2020 the European Commission released ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN), a Science for Policy Report, prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. This policy report is intended to contribute to the further elucidation of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy which is a key element of the European Green Deal. It has, at its core, a description of 12 profiles that are attempt to categorize the likely diversity and range of professional farming styles in European agriculture in 2040. The report asks, and tries to respond to, the following question: “ Who will be the key players of the EU next generation agriculture, the farmers of the future?” Continue reading