Controversial WUR

Highlights of the panel discussion on WURs ties to the private sector

Last Tuesday, the impact of WUR’s collaboration with the private sector was discussed in a digital event hosted by RUW and Otherwise. In the panel discussion both critics and protagonists had their say, in something that should be called a dialogue, but sometimes looked like a very watchable debate.

In the first round of the discussion, the different panelists took their stances. The most revealing were the stances of Bram Buscher (Chair Sociology of Development and Change) and Ernst van den Ende (Director Plant Science Group). Although they are both WUR employees, their stances differed by a mile. While Van den Ende thought private collaborations were vital in order to apply research in society and industry, Buscher argued that universities should be morally and intellectually independent from any political influence and/or economic interest.

Another set of contradictory stances became apparent between Manfred Aben (Global Vice President Science & Technology at Unilever) and Solina Diallo (student and activist at WUR). Aben stressed that WUR’s collaboration with Unilever made it possible to scale up sustainable solutions, while Diallo thought it was strange to have one of the world’s largest polluters on campus in the first place.

But despite of all their differences, all speakers agreed that transparency was important. However, when the fifth panel member Anne Mensink (Business Developer Wageningen Campus) was asked on what the requirements for private sector collaborations on campus actually were, the answer turned out to be rather vague: “There has to be an added value to the campus ‘ecosystem’ and an intrinsic motivation to collaborate in the topics WUR finds important for the future”.

In the end, an empty feeling was left in our stomachs after a short evening of discussion and dialogue. A lot was said about the need and benefits of private sector collaborations, the need for transparency, and the need to remain a trustworthy and independent university, but where was the WUR board member to explain how all of this could be achieved?

There are two follow-up events coming up where you can learn more about this topic with other interested people and have your voice heard on how WUR works with the private sector. Sign-up here.