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Foto: Daniël Rommens

Board of UvA-HvA announces de-merger

Willem van Ewijk,
13 september 2016 - 16:39

The union has been dissolved. Last week the board of directors of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) announced that the cooperation between the two institutions will officially come to an end on January 1st.

Both institutions started to work together in 2003. The ambitions were clear: researchers at UvA and HvA had to cooperate more closely. Furthermore cooperation would make it easier for students at the HvA, which provides a professional education, to pursue an academic diploma at the UvA. UvA-dropouts could try to pursue a professional education at the HvA.

Because a full merger was prohibited by the Dutch minister of education – who wanted to maintain a strict distinction between institutions of professional education and academic institutions – only a merger of the boards was possible. Services like ‘facility services’ and ‘ict’ would only co-operate, which in practice would be the same thing.

Yet, it is this halfhearted choice that possibly lead to failure. ‘Originally this so called “personal union” was only meant to be a first step towards further cooperation,’ Sijbolt Noorda, who was the first president of the board of both institutions, said.

The cooperation between UvA and HvA has been extensively scrutinized over the summer by consultancy firms Berenschot and Deloitte. It appeared that better cooperation between researchers and professors never really took shape. ‘The administrative cooperation between UvA and HvA never brought the expected added value,’ Berenschot wrote. In the field of research and education Berenschot found some successful examples of cooperation, that would have been possible without a merger as well.

A de-merger was bound to happen. Six months ago, the deans of the faculties of both organizations, together with the student and labor councils stated that it was too hard to manage both institutions simultaneously: the administration had become too bureaucratic.

‘Told you so’, students and employees tweeted after the announcement.

Psychological effects
Now the board announces that this is the official point of view of both institutions and that a de-merger will be in effect starting January 1st.

Philosophy student Harriet Bergman (24), who was one of the student protesters that occupied the seat of the Maagdenhuis, the board of UvA and HvA, for weeks in 2015: ‘Managing so many people, makes it impossible to stay in contact with your employees and students. This was one of the reasons to occupy: we need to decentralize the university.’

Her comment touches upon another, more profound problem: a psychological one.
According to the consultancy firms cooperation could be beneficial only at the level of supporting services, even though it is still unsure whether UvA and HvA will continue to cooperate. Better, more efficient cooperation could save fifteen percent in costs, Deloitte estimated. But it’s not up to us to decide, the consultants wrote in their report: it depends on the support within the organization and the psychological effects these decisions will have on its employees.