Stop your indecisive courtship with Zuidas before it’s too late

Aerial view with an overview of the Zuidas office buildings in Amsterdam-Zuid.Dutch photo height / ANP

When news reports appear about the relationship between Dutch universities and large accounting and consulting firms, this is actually not good news at all. Last Sunday happened again: news hour I mentioned that Erasmus University has not only agreed to a complete waiver of the research obligations of former Prime Minister Jean-Peter Balkenende, our former Prime Minister, but that the university – and above all else – has also had to pay an EY accountant to use Balkenende’s services.

It was also recently reported that when the EY Professor was appointed to my employer, there was uncertainty about the funding of the chair. University magazines folia And mare She later published articles about accounting and consulting firms trying to influence research at universities. University boards insist on the “synergistic” relationship between universities and Zuidas offices, while this relationship is best described as “parasitic”.

I know how

As an outsider, you might think: Why do universities like to work with these offices when there is so much trouble? The answer college boards often formulate is that these large corporations have a tremendous amount of knowledge about how law and politics work. On the ground†By working together, mutual benefits – oops: synergy – can be created. This is called staying in touch with the professional field. Such an answer may seem a bit vague and unclear.

As a “knowledgeable person”, a faculty member who loves to collaborate with these offices, I also have trouble seeing beyond the vagueness of known justifications for cooperation. What we see is systematic question marks about the autonomy of university employees who are funded by Zuidas and/or work partly for Zuidas. The reason many of my colleagues and I take this very seriously is that we can only do our job as academics if the independence and integrity of academia is not in question. This independence is exactly what makes the university a unique institution.


From the point of view of the Zuidas offices, it is quite understandable that they would like to cooperate with the universities. After all, universities do have a unique kind of scarce capital – apologies for the term flat capitalism – to which the Zuids themselves do not have direct access: the prestige and prestige of academic research. This prestige and prestige does not arise solely from the fact that quality research is done in universities. Private research institutes, such as Microsoft Research, also have brilliant scientists who do great research. No, academic standing and prestige also stem from the independence of academic research, rooted in rules and principles.

This situation cannot be replicated outside the academic world, because it is rooted in the academic world. in cover news hour So it is seen that companies like EY are very transparent about their goals. EY wants to hire ten EY professors to work in the Netherlands, so that the accountant’s academic standing will reflect, and thus increase the market value of its staff and advisory services.

parasitic edge

The fact that this relationship between large consulting firms, accounting firms and universities has a parasitic advantage is partly due to this: large Zuidas offices are unloading exactly the same commodity due to their acquisition of the rare commodity they are looking for. With every collaboration and with every scandal (ambiguity about funding, impact on research), our academic independence gets a little more mysterious to the outside world. After all, I now work for a college that has questionable ties to Zuidas and I have to answer questions about it, while I never work with these parties.

Because universities have existed for centuries as independent research institutes, a great deal of academic “capital” has been built up. So large Zuidas offices can continue to pursue collaborations that at the same time affect what has been allocated as well. But there comes a time when universities are so confined to the commercial sector that the university loses its special status, because it is no longer independent.

Finally, therefore, I would like to call on all my colleagues and especially the university boards: stop the non-monetary courtship with Zuidas before it is too late. Our unique academy “capital” will eventually run out.

Marine Sachs Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Information Law at the University of Amsterdam.

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