Neoliberal policies spark Amsterdam student protests
Protestors are angry at the destruction of education in the Netherlands by neoliberal values, meaning only subjects that provide financial results are prioritised, student support has been gutted, and both teachers and students are forced to participate in endless rounds of pointless bureaucracy.
Many are also unhappy at the dealings of UvA with its valuable property portfolio in the centre of the city, which has seen much loved buildings closed and sold off.
The Maagdenuis, as the Senate building which is currently occupied is known, is the third University building to have been appropriated by students since the academic year began.
At the end of 2014 students took a space that had been a social centre for students and staff of the Anthropology and Social Sciences department, just before it was due to be sold off and removed from academic use.
It remained open as a free educational and social resource in the heart of the city centre until Christmas. Then in the New Year they took to the Bungehuis, close to Dam Square and the palace of the Dutch Royal family.
When the University evicted the occupiers from this second location, it sparked the largest student protest march in recent history at UvA, with hundreds of activists swarming on the new location, the senate house.
As noted, the issues at stake are complex. The subjects grouped under the Humanities have seen brutal cuts after a financialised administration failed to see their potential for profit.
Staff across the university are angry and demotivated about the way they are managed and the amount of time they need to spend on non-educational paperwork.
And across the Netherlands, the right wing national government has just scrapped student grants in favour of a loans and debt based system, leading to nationwide protests.
Protestors demand a moratorium on further restructuring, a full independent audit of what has taken place, and crucially, mass democratisation of the university, under an elected leadership.
For anyone who was around for the 2011 student protests in the UK, and university occupations such as the six-month Free Hetherington experiment at Glasgow University, the Maagdenuis seems familiar, albeit on a grander scale than anything we saw in Scotland.
Hundreds of staff and students are daily involved in running a huge space providing free lectures from internationally renowned academics, artistic, musical and cultural events, and daily organising meetings.
As UvA Professor and noted critic of financialisation Ewald Engelen put it: “The Maagdenuis is the most interesting place in Western Europe right now.”
Staff involvement has snowballed since the most recent occupation, due to the fact that the board has clearly been caught off guard.
Not expecting the scale of protest they have faced since their eviction operation, they have issued a conciliatory statement acknowledging many failing and giving a ten point plan for working with the academic community to strengthen existing representative bodies for staff and students and open the structures up to more scrutiny.
Whilst this is welcome, it does not go far enough, and continues to present changes in neoliberal management speak. As the Voice was going to press, organising was continuing across the University, with staff discussing the possibility of sympathy strike action with their unions.
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