The red square stands as a symbol for the fight of students and teachers against the degradation of higher education which has been going on for years.
For the past 20 years, the Dutch government has been cutting its spending on education. The state contribution per student has only decreased, while the amount of students has been increasing. Overall, the Netherlands spends a significantly smaller amount on its education, while still expecting the universities to rank in the top.
The managing boards of universities across the country have to come up with inventive ways to keep afloat.
They tend to change the language of studies from Dutch to English, in attempt to attract international students. Because the intention behind the switch is not education related, this can have negative benefits on how the course is taught.
Other ways of cutting costs happen at alfa and gamma faculties, as they tend to not be profit machines. Their courses, languages, or even entire programs get cut or grouped together, the latter resulting in the knowledge passed on in the courses becoming broader and more generic.
As a teacher, your position within the university is precarious and heavy. You do not know if or when you or your entire discipline for that sake will get the chop. You teach overcrowded classes, unable to give students the individual attention they need. You drown in the amount of work you have to finish, forced to sacrifice both your designated research and free time to get it done.
As a student, especially in the faculties of humanities and social sciences, you can miss out on courses and languages which from one to other year disapear. You do not enjoy the quality of education that you were promised, all the while you are pressured to earn your degree as quickly as possible.
The current minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, wants higher education to meet the needs of the economy, and has thus appointed the van Rijn committee. Their main job was to find ways to increase spending on technical and beta sciences, without increasing spending on education as a whole. The money would have to come from alfa and gamma. In this neoliberal approach, knowledge is only worthy when it is in service of the economy.
Students, teachers and scientists have been trying to get their point across for years now; there is nothing left to cut. We need to invest in higher education, and we need to invest in every part of it.