RUW Foundation has released a report based on the outcomes of a series of discussions it hosted to delve into the topic of how WUR works with the private sector. Last month, the report was presented to the executive board and they gave a response.
In the last academic year, RUW Foundation and OtherWise organized a series of three events to discuss the collaboration
between WUR and the private sector. These events were triggered by the protests and discussions that surrounded the arrival of the Unilever building on campus – almost two years ago. Through a panel discussion, two discussion workshops and a survey, the report gathered opinions from a variety of persepctives. The high levels of participation and impact showed how important this topic is for the WUR comunity.
The report describes the subject, explains the different steps of the process and the outcomes. It is divided into four subtopics: transparency, decision-making, presence of companies on campus, and influence on research. For each of the subtopics, potential risks and benefits are identified, and potential solutions or recommendations are suggested. Check out the report at ruwfoundation.nl
First, we need more discussion. The WUR community has shown interest in engaging and reconciling the conflicting opinions on the topic. Inclusivity appears to be a key aspect to consider in doing this. “The conversation needs to be continuous, transversal, inclusive and relevant”, meaning holding periodic discussions that include a representative group of the university community.
Second, WUR needs to review their transparency policies. The report states that transparency is both the problem and the solution. People want more than information on a website, open communication about these collaborations and their implications is necessary.
Third, in the process of deciding which companies to allow to build on our campus, there needs to be more involvement from the wider university community. Everyone should be in an “open and participatory process”. Let’s set some ethical guidelines together!
The big question is private sector on campus, yes or no? Well since WUR represents many people, studies, and research with conflicting opinions, it is important to make sure that the image our university portrays represents that. The large presence of corporations on campus represents a vision of our university that is not representative. Where are the NGOs and social enterprises? Lack of representation can threaten the independence and credibility of the institution.
Finally, there is the influence on research. People requested that the university review the patenting regulations, and establish mechanisms to ensure scientific independence, and ensure the quality of training for researchers to maintain independence and integrity is up to scratch.
So what did the executive board say?
The Executive Board of WUR has read the report and responded: We have read The Impact of Collaboration” by the RUW Foundation with great interest. The report contains interesting conclusions and recommendations and supports WUR in its efforts to achieve open and participatory collaboration based on transparency. The report provides an insight into the conversations that were held during a dialogue and workshops on issues that are important to the participating students and staff. These are often dilemmas to which answers can only be found by working together. We also note that the report paints a fragmented picture of meaningful discussions within a relatively small setting. For this reason, we agree it is necessary to continue these discussions but within a larger forum, where input and representation from a wider group of our staff and students is possible. WUR also considers transparency to be of the utmost importance and will address this continuously.
So, will something actually happen, or was this whole process just propaganda to pretend there is some engagement with the topic but lacking the real willingness to change anything? RUW have asked if there is a clear plan “to continue these discussions within a wider forum”. The spokesperson for the executive board told us that there is a master thesis being conducted on the topic and that WUR dialogues will organise a session titled “Partnerships to create impact on society: how to deal with large and small partners?”. Is this enough? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Robert M. Varderi