The neoliberal university in a pandemic

The ASVA student union voices her criticism of the way the University of Amsterdam continues functioning at any cost, thereby not doing justice to the complaints from students and teachers. This problem arises from the way higher education has been conducted for years.

The university gets accused of being a degree factory; this we know. We know that the University of Amsterdam has, parallel to her organisation as an educational facility, a holding called UvA Ventures Holding BV. We know that UvA executive board member Jan Lintsen is also on the board of the holding, together with Hans Amman, the guy who, at the time, was blamed during the Maagdenhuis occupation of causing the UvA money problems by his ‘creative’ real estate business. We also know that UvA Ventures Holding BV works alongside UvA to carry out commercial activities that the university itself would not be allowed to do, like letting out buildings. We know that the UvA, through UvA Ventures Holding BV, encourages students to found start-ups, that it lets out space to those students and buys almost half of the priming enterprise in the name of valorisation. We know that our university has deals with companies like the one is has with Shell.

If you weren’t aware of any of these facts: no worries, you know now. Because we know that the UvA has been governing in this manner for some time and we know how the university is conceived as a business, we also know which words we should use to make our point: free market effect and neoliberalism.

As a consumer in this scenario we, the students, have purchased the product ‘university education’. But are we actually satisfied with our purchases? We’re spending 2000 euro’s for two semesters, and our first semester went significantly different than the current one.

After a couple of months we are doubting our purchase: what did I actually buy? The student would take their receipt and look for the warranty conditions. Online access to academic journals, being able to pick up books from the library, speaking to my teachers via email; this is what we still have access to. Contact time with teachers and other people in our field, weren’t those essential components of our purchase?

If this sounds somewhat bitter, lacking in solidarity in times where we should be offering each other a supporting hand, you’re talking to the wrong person. Teachers work themselves to bits to make the transformation to online education, but what does it yield us? What is the teaching return in these times? What is the value of this kind of education?

We know that time is money, but can we please take a minute and ask ourselves why the university is acting like it is business as usual? When students cannot perform as usual, but the same output is still required from them, when teachers are put under copious amounts of stress because of a pandemic, when we all spend lots of time behind our laptops without feeling like we learn a lot this way, at what point do we admit that we cannot keep going this way?

At ASVA, desperate students ask us every day if the university will offer some sympathy. Like suspension of education, a statement that teachers, solidary or not, are reasonable when it comes to extension, delay or suspension of deadlines, a statement that students cannot score lower than the average of the previous semester, anything at all? Of course the UvA is concerned about the decline in number of international students coming in, that is the revenue model, but we ask them to care for the students who are already here.

Students and teachers are not machines, not mere profit, but during the ongoing pandemic, they are forced to keep going, at their own expense. In the end, the corona crisis has not been able to address what for many of us was crystal clear already, that the way we are being forced to treat each other and ourselves is not durable and that it is time for change. Our plea is: do not think of ‘business as usual’, it did not work before the crisis and especially won’t now. To be frank, it is only going to yield us trouble…