Bills to this effect won majorities in the House yesterday. The votes reflect the aversion many MPs feel to the National Action Plan to increase diversity and inclusion in higher education and research.
The VVD party expressed doubts about the benefits of registering the ethnicities and immigration backgrounds of students and staff. Calling such action ‘undesirable’, it stressed people should be judged on their merits, not their origins.
The problem, countered other parties and the Education minister last week, is that that’s precisely what’s not happening. Debate was heated. If everyone were judged on their merits and talent, said Minister van Engelshoven, higher education would look much more diverse.
But this didn’t sway VVD, CDA and ChristenUnie MPs, whose bills were passed with support from government opposition parties the SGP, PVV and FvD. Their message to the minister was a clear ‘no’ to the registration of people’s origins and the introduction of a barometer for diversity in higher education.
The quality of teaching and research must come first, argued the SGP, and that could clash with an ‘activistic focus on diversity’. The administration should therefore take ‘active and explicit’ steps to ensure that promoting diversity will not detract from quality, as per one bill.
That bill was among those to win majority approval, alongside another from the SGP cautioning against ‘diversity police’. The Christian party took issue with the proposed deployment of diversity officers, advising against any such legislation.
The only ‘left-wing’ bill passed concerned pregnancy discrimination. Presented by the GroenLinks and PvdA parties, it calls for a government analysis of how many women abandon academic careers because of pregnancy. Almost everyone supported this idea.
However, when it came to whether steps should be taken to ensure equal pay for women, or to create a safe work setting, or to make executive-level agreements guaranteeing equal opportunities in higher education regardless of gender, background and age – as proposed in another bill – a majority deemed that a bridge too far.
What this means for the National Action Plan is still unclear. The creation of a national knowledge centre for diversity and inclusion may be delayed if the government withdraws its support.
Universities can set their own policy though, and that extends to diversity too. The decision which indicators to use and whether to hire diversity officers is theirs to take.
The votes elicited a flood of reactions. On Twitter, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences President Ineke Sluiter called the bills bewildering. ‘But of course we’re pushing ahead with this action plan.’