New edition of Slow Science doctoral school course “Another university is possible!”

Each year, we organise an Inter-University Doctoral Schools Course (UGent/VUB/UAntwerpen/KULeuven) regarding the question ‘What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia?’ 

All information can be found on our website here.

The edition of 2021 will take place on the following days:

  • Thursday April 22nd
  • Friday April 23rd
  • Thursday May 6th
  • Friday May 7th

Registration is now open! You can register by following this link:
Note that there is a maximum capacity of 30 subscriptions.

You can also check the website of Ghent University for all information:

Hope to see you there and then!


General description

Over the past few years, numerous scholars and university personnel have raised their concerns about research deontology, increasing publication pressure and the changing professional environment in which academics have to work. Cases of scientific fraud such as that of Diederik Stapel in the Netherlands, suspended in 2011 by Tilburg University, caused quite a stir within the academic community. Stapel was exposed for fabricating and manipulating data for research publications, a malpractice that was apparently going on for years. The scope of Stapel’s case may have been an exception. However, in March 2013, the Belgian scientific magazine EOS revealed in a study that 1 out of 12 researchers admitted to manipulating data sometimes in order to cope with the increasing pressure to publish. Even where publication pressures don’t necessarily lead to malpractice, they play a decisive role in determining what topics are addressed and what kinds of questions are asked. This situation obviously raises serious questions about ethics, deontology, norms, the conduct of research itself, and the relationship between science and society/democracy in general. In response, Belgian universities have expressed an interest in raising awareness among the academic population and pointed to the Doctoral Schools as a way of accomplishing this.

Yet, while pertinent, raising awareness among young scholars cannot be reduced to a condemnation of individual practices alone. It is important to situate and contextualize these cases of individual malpractice within a broader context of academic internationalization and the position of local research institutions and universities in an increasingly global and competitive environment. The seminars and debate organized in this course – titled “What does it mean to be a researcher in the 21st century?” – address these broader questions. The course sets out to raise awareness among researchers not only of their individual obligations and role within academic institutions, but also of the broader context of the research environment in which they try to build a career. This course answers the structural need for thorough deontological, ethical and socio-political self-reflection about the changing role of academic knowledge and academics in our current society.

‘Towards a non-extractive and care-driven academy’

Article by Vijay Kolinjivadi, Gert Van Hecken, Jennifer Casolo, Shazma Abdulla and Rut Elliot Blomqvist.


The white gaze permeates many aspects of even the most critical disciplines. In this piece, we offer some thoughts on how we might reclaim what the university could be – a place that equips people with the knowledge they need to unlearn/unmake/dismantle the framings and worldviews that lend themselves to white supremacy and other forms of oppression more broadly.

Across the country and around the world, people are coming out to denounce systemic racism in their institutions and in society more broadly. The Covid-19 pandemic has offered a magnifying lens to the deep-rooted inequalities and injustices prevalent in society. It has also shown how inequalities, such as those along racial, gender, and class lines, are reinforced and compounded in a relatively short time span in the efforts to return to “normal”. Returning to business-as-usual is precisely what institutions, governments, and corporations are so desperately seeking. Yet, the world before and during the pandemic was/is premised on white supremacy, colonial legacies of natural resource extraction and bondage of cheap labour. Consequently, returning to “normal” is not something that we should ethically and politically aspire for. As Indian writer Arundhati Roy writes, the pandemic should be a “portal” to deconstruct, and transform the world that we knew before. This does not mean making business-as-usual more comprehensive, holistic, or inclusive. Rather, it involves the harder work of “un-learning” and “un-doing” the current model of productivist and extractivist development disguised as modernity and “progress”. By prioritizing careful attention and consideration of multiple ways of knowing and relating to the world, we can be better positioned to support ongoing struggles in re-building a world premised upon justice above all else.

Universities and institutions of higher-learning have an important responsibility in these “unlearning” and “rebuilding” processes as they offer privileged spaces for enhancing critical thinking in dialogue with constant societal change. Improving societies by prioritizing justice is a core task of universities in the advancement of science and technology as collective commons. After all, what good is generating knowledge if it cannot be (re)produced, accessed, and understood by all? Even if scholars have advanced many long and fruitful discussions on how to break free from colonial legacies and extractive development models, these initiatives risk losing their meaning if they are inscribed into an academic environment which is both principled and conditioned upon competition and a growth-oriented knowledge economy. Much of the wealth of academic insights get sucked into the aspirations of an expansionary university in competition within a globalized academic industry. This hollowing-out takes place due to the ways by which the process of generating knowledge (including the labour of researchers and their collaborators) gets parameterized and packaged into predetermined “outputs” as stipulated in grant proposals and departmental performance rubrics. These quantified metrics are then used to justify academic positions (and indeed whole departments). The pressure to aspire for growth within academia risks knowledge getting detached from its situated context, losing its meaning, and instead becoming an end-product in itself.

Worse still, this highly uneven process generates cultures of distrust, hierarchy, competition, and fast-scholarship in the race to produce more in the least amount of time. While obviously reflecting different contexts of privilege, the underlying mechanisms and logic behind this production process is no different from the discipline of a factory floor, in which researchers extract knowledge and are themselves the subject of extraction. This hierarchy of extraction can be seen when, for example, junior scholars, themselves engaged in extracting knowledge from third parties for their own projects, may be obliged to undertake menial tasks unrelated to their own research and which serve to benefit only their superiors. In addition, knowledge production in academia is reserved to those who are the best-placed to compete in this game, which is often to the disadvantage of women, people of colour and junior researchers, and those without academic credentials (including local community members who are often the “subjects” of research with whom especially social science scholars interact with in advancing either theoretical or applied knowledge).

This factory-floor model of academic production rooted in asymmetrical power relations  replicates a singular way of shaping and understanding knowledge generation. It is premised upon optimizing knowledge products as outputs dependent upon the labour (e.g. academic faculty and support staff) and resources (e.g. grant funding, partnerships, networks, and research “subjects”) required to produce these outputs in the most efficient way. This extractive process of mobilizing labour and resources for knowledge production cannot be centred on any individual, but is situated within a cutthroat industry where peer-reviewed journal impact factors, publication numbers, successful grant applications, global partnerships, graduate programs and percentage of successful graduates and even the number of followers on twitter are all instrumentalized for the purposes of showcasing which university, which department, or which faculty member wins the ‘gold medal’ in the globalized academic Olympics. The competitive tendency here already takes extraction and instrumentalization of relationships in academic collaboration as a normalized starting point and then builds on this mode of operation as a way to gain a greater share within the knowledge economy.

The instrumentalization within academia extends beyond internal collaborations within the academy to historically colonial relations of academics and their research “subjects” in the field. The relationship between historical colonial legacies in the perpetuation of the knowledge economy is indeed a serious cause for concern. Indigenous Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues, for instance, that social science “research” is itself one of the “dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary” having been inextricably linked historically to European imperialism and colonialism in terms of how “knowledge about indigenous peoples was collected, classified, and then represented back to the West.” Bhambra and colleagues take this further by stating that “[t]he foundation of European higher education institutions in colonized territories itself became an infrastructure of empire, an institution and actor through which the totalizing logic of domination could be extended; European forms of knowledge were spread, local indigenous knowledge suppressed, and native informants trained” (p.5).

This white gaze of a singular understanding of the world then gets reproduced through the production metrics and standards imposed by the knowledge economy. Implicit extractivism in the academy operates by failing to recognize and then act upon the asymmetrical ways that knowledge extraction preys upon the precarious positions of more vulnerable scholars. As scholars in Development Studies in particular, we acknowledge how insights from the so-called “Global South” have historically served and continue to serve Northern universities and research institutes. This process of translating diverse knowledges into a singular easy-to-digest narrative is precisely how white supremacy circulates, even unconsciously, in reproducing the homogenizing and simplifying patterns that have shaped colonial development since the 15th century. The factory-house model of organizing and optimizing knowledge generation follows the tradition of resource exploitation since colonial times and as such, carries with it the white gaze of what counts (and doesn’t count) as legitimate knowledge. A white gaze extends to the built-in hierarchy of knowledge producers propagated by national research foundations, where non-academic knowledge producers and researchers from the Global South are accepted only as informants or field assistants, with an incredibly skewed scale of remuneration. Ultimately, the academy extracts wealth from marginalized communities and organizations and justifies these logics by making those not under the accepted institution marginal, invisible, underfunded and with limited access to knowledge production resources.

Academics can no longer be permitted to surf this wave of deeply extractivist practice in how knowledge is generated. Transforming the university requires not only turning the mirror upon ourselves as academics in reflecting upon our practice, but also more fundamentally in actively dismantling the knowledge economy that is structured in the constant prospection, appropriation, and standardization of intellectual labour. Decolonizing the university means collectively re-establishing “the terms upon which the university (and education more broadly) exists, the purpose of the knowledge it imparts and produces, and its pedagogical operations”. Such an effort requires fundamentally different ways of political organization in how knowledge gets generated. In other words, we academics must self-reflect at the same time as we act to transform the university and society more broadly away from systemic injustices. Academics have a notorious tendency to pensively sit back and comfortably theorize on ways to dismantle systems of inequality, even as we paradoxically benefit from those very same systems of inequality in perpetuating the knowledge economy. Consequently, our privileged capacity to self-reflect risks replicating the very structures some of us write so vehemently against, particularly in the competitive arena of instrumentalizing academic relationships for the purposes of career advancement. The professionalization of social justice critique becomes trapped within a “hall of mirrors” whereby the emancipatory potential of co-produced knowledge gets neutralized by the predatory tendencies of the academic industry in which “knowledge products” are continuously stacked as if on an endless pile.

Having recognized these tendencies, the academy’s approach to responding to these challenges has been to performatively showcase universities as being “inclusive.” “Decolonization” becomes a topical buzzword for which academic pursuits can be channeled to tap into new sources of knowledge outputs for more socially-just economic growth in the knowledge economy. This new “decolonial frontier” is violently at odds with what decolonization is actually about; the frontier becomes a new way to extinguish any possibility of real transformation. As Tuck and Yang have argued, decolonization is not a metaphor; it must never be co-opted by being restricted to a checklist composed of “diversity and inclusion” statements by the university, institutionalized “codes of conduct”, or integrating “decolonial” curricula into more holistic graduate programs and the like. For Tuck and Yang, decolonization refers specifically to restoring native lands that were violently usurped in the process of settler colonialism. Elsewhere, it refers to dismantling the structures of European imaginaries that have to shape how “development” is defined and understood.

If recognition exists about these structural problems so ever-present in the expansionary aims of the academic industry, why does it remain so hard to impart long-lasting change that goes beyond optics? Like broader society as a whole, the answer lies in the uneven ways that power operates to discipline those who complain or deviate from standard practice in the academic profession. For instance, speaking out about some of these concerns has disproportional implications for junior scholars, and especially women and people of colour, who risk compromising their future prospects in the academy by exposing any of its potential flaws. On a broader scale, many research participants in the generation of knowledge are not even afforded a space to enter into the academy’s walls. They remain as “missing co-authors”, perpetually denied legitimacy to change the academy from within. Rather, they are charged with being essential to the research enterprise; essentially inputs for the production of knowledge products. Moreover, it is they who must absorb the implications of these “products” that inevitably shape their own livelihood capacities and potentials.

To re-emphasize, this intervention is not targeted to the specific actions of individual scholars (though these do need to be held accountable), but is rather exposing a systemic problem. As academics ourselves, we are equally complicit, and feel that it is our duty to support any type of alternative that confronts the root-causes of extractive practices in the academy. While saying this, we also recognize that writing an intervention like this comes from a position of privilege, which would not be afforded to many others, but this is precisely why we do this. Just as remaining silent about one’s own racial privilege, while claiming to “not be a racist” is how white supremacy continues to thrive, remaining silent about one’s privilege in the academic class structure is complicity in its reproduction. Either we collectively take active steps to end these exploitative ways of doing research or we stop making performative claims that we are somehow making the university more just, inclusive, and diverse.

How do we then build counter-power to address the exploitative logics underpinning the academic endeavour? Changing current academic culture and its underlying perverse incentive structure requires us to collectively stand up against an unfair system, while taking into account that any type of fundamental change is slow, therefore placing the onus particularly on the more established scholars with more or less fixed positions to change the rules of the game. Given the privilege of established scholars, this is of course a delicate process that must be conducted with great transparency and accountability to avoid reproducing new forms of inequality. Building resistance to business-as-usual does not require reinventing the wheel. We must join with feminist scholars who unequivocally state that “cultivating space to care for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students is, in fact, a political activity when we are situated in institutions that devalue and militate against such relations and practices” (p.1239). Likewise, “slow scholarship”, which refers to transforming academic institutions from the ground-up, by actively resisting against “the culture of speed in the academy and ways of alleviating stress while improving teaching, research, and collegiality”, offers a path for fundamentally transforming the power relations of knowledge production.

There is an increasing wealth of resources, strategies, and alternatives that are being advanced to stimulate fundamental structural changes in how the academy operates. By no means an exhaustive list, below we identify some key examples of how to move forward. These examples are even more relevant in a context of deep uncertainty and increasing precarity as a result of the global pandemic.

  • A minifesto for “building collectives of care rather than mere departments” by unlearning the boundaries of academic discipline;
  • Developing a ‘moral economy’ of knowledge co-creation that prioritizes the process over the end outcome and encourages timeless and caring spaces of interaction for genuine creativity, collegiality, and joy to be the drivers of knowledge generation;
  • Building an “ethics of mentorship” in which established scholars cede place to the learning trajectories of junior scholars and to prioritize quality and process over quantity;
  • Re-commoning knowledge for all by rethinking publication strategies to damage the pocket books of for-profit publishers and synchronously redefining and requalifying our “production”;
  • Building meaningful, non-extractive, and care-ful partnerships and collaborations for engaged social research. This requires engaging different publics, being comfortable to refine or even reject earlier ideas, fostering safe spaces to be more vulnerable about fears and emotions in the research process, directly linking research outcomes with activism and advocacy in highly political arenas, and generally amplifying the potential impact of our scholarship rather than moving on to the next product that “counts” to administrators”;
  • Reparations and redistribution of research funding such that recognition of non-academics in general and academics of the Global South is not just symbolic. A systemic reorganization process is required within the academy to recognize the shared knowledge producing labour of all partners in the process – from cleaners within the walls of the institute to participants in research endeavours in all corners of the world and in contributing to the knowledge commons;
  • Being accountable to the responsibilities that come with privilege, for example by taking the lead in shaking up evaluation protocols and shifting how accountability and evaluation metrics are established at the university and departmental level (“good enough is the new perfect”) or by ceding place in the publication race and instead empower and embolden younger and more precarious scholars to advance this agenda in their institutes and from their own lived experiences;
  • Building counter power through Internationalist unions of intellectual workers, involving unionisation beyond the established Western trade unions which often just support the privileges of the few university employees with tenure;
  • Making the work of universities function as integrated parts in a very different social metabolism – meaning that social reproduction both of research and of the university upkeep itself becomes an integral responsibility for all those affiliated with the university. In other words, this implies that the work of maintaining the academic endeavour cannot be cost-shifted to cheaper or more precarious labour, but must be a core responsibility of those who live and breathe within the university.

*We are incredibly grateful to Frances Cleaver, Tomaso Ferrando, Frédéric Huybrechs, Nathalie Pipart, Hanne Van Cappellen, and Juan Sebastian Vélez Triana for useful comments and suggestions provided on earlier drafts.

Vijay Kolinjivadi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp (Belgium).

Gert Van Hecken is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp (Belgium) and Research Associate at Nitlapan-Universidad Centroamericana (Nicaragua).

Jennifer Casolo is Research Associate at Nitlapan-Universidad Centroamericana (Nicaragua), and at the Pluriversidad Maya-Ch’orti’ (Guatemala).

Shazma Abdulla is a writer, innovator, and community organizer who focuses on social inequities, racial justice, and spatial justice. She is affiliated with the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Canada.

Rut Elliot Blomqvist is a doctoral candidate at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden exploring the transdisciplinary fields of utopian studies, environmental humanities, and political ecology to not only consider the structure and meaning of environmentalist political visions but also the role of literary and cultural theory in these fields. 

[The above article was submitted to the slowscience blog by Gert Van Hecken. The original source is]

Our slow science manifesto for a new praxis in higher education in post-corona times is now published

The last couple of months were for many of us a very strange period. Life as we knew it came to a halt, for better or for worse. Even though Belgian higher education continued their activities, the effects on the daily work and life of everyone involved changed dramatically.

For those involved in Slow Science, the pandemic meant the cancellation of this year’s doctoral school course, while focusing our attention on those other tasks requiring our attention. In the past weeks, we have worked on a slow science manifesto for a new praxis in higher education in post-corona times.

In this manifesto, we provide an overview of the effects of the corona pandemic on different groups within the university, and the specific needs we are facing. We urge governments, universities and funding agencies to address the various concerns and take actions to alleviate pressure on the short and long term.

You can find the manifesto in French, Dutch, and English on our website. We also encourage you to sign the petition if you support our aims and demands.

If you have an action or event you want to share with Slow Science, feel free to get in touch on

Would you like to get involved? Have a look at our ‘get involved’ page, or get in touch!

Ethics Week 2019

The first week of December, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel organizes an ‘Ethics Week‘ with a focus on research ethics. They explicitly invite people from the Slow Science Network to participate and/or share their critical questions.

The topics discussed include issues that are central to the slow science movement , such as the problem of “publish or perish” and discussions related to positionality and diversity.

For more information and to register, see the website.

Slow Science DS – 2019 edition

Last week, we concluded the 2019 edition of our doctoral course.

On Thursday, we met in Brussels at KULeuven, campus Brussel.

We started the day with a session on the topic of ‘Publish and/or perish’. The session was opened by our very own Freek Van Deynze. Freek gave us a general overview of the current state of academia in Flanders, with a special focus on the relation between the funding of the universities and publication pressure. Jon Tennant provided a passionate plea for Open Science (and against greedy publishers such as Elsevier, and related evils such as the journal impact factor). Consistent with his plea for Open Access, Jon’s presentation at our course can be found here. Next, Reine Meylaerts, vice-rector of research policy at KULeuven, talked about the societal impact of research and the complexity related to its assessment. We concluded the session with a general discussion, in which our participants shared their experiences.

Change Cultures Tennant
Jon Tennant

Jon Tennant, Reine Meylaerts, and Freek Van Deynze

In the afternoon, we held a session on gender and diversity. Nellie Konijnendijk informed us about the ubiquity of implicit bias, and ways it could be addressed. The session included a practical exercise, in which the participants reflected on ways to make academia more inclusive.

Nellie Konijnendijk

Exercise on gender and diversity

In the evening, we organized a public debat in collaboration with Muntpunt. With Barbara Van Dyck as moderator, we shared our thoughts on the challenges posed by climate change and the role that the universities could/should play in addressing these issues. Our panel consisted of Anneleen Kenis, Chloé Verlinden, Mohamed Al Marchohi, and Tom Cox. Anneleen Kenis is an interdisciplinary geographer, with a background in political/ human ecology, sustainable development and psychology. Chloé Verlinden represented Students4Climate.  She is a Master student in Urban Studies (VUB-ULB), with a background in political sciences and anthropology. Mohamed Al Marchohi is currently working for GO! as an energy and climate policy advisor. In the past he worked for the Social-Economic Council of Flanders (SERV), he also conducted research in the field of Energy- and Environmental Economics at the University of Antwerp. Tom Cox  is a civil engineer, he is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp, where he is affiliated to the Ecosystem Management research group. He was affiliated with the recent scientists4climate movement and has also been involved in other forms of climate activism (e.g. GroeNoord). The panelists provided their perspective on the issues at hand. One of the main points under discussion was the role of academics. Mohamed stated that part of the problem is that a lot of people are still not convinced that climate change is a problem. It therefore remains an important taks for academics to inform the public. Tom doubted whether this was the central problem, and countered that facts do not necessarily lead to action. He also voiced his doubts about the role of academia. First, academics are not special, they are just ordinary citizens. Moreover, academics (according to him) are bad agents of change. On an institutional level, he observed that universities do not make change happen. The lack of radical actions taken by universities [1] is a slap in the face of climate scientists. Chloé also noted a lack of action and mobilization amongst professors, but added that this was a problem in the student population as well. According to Anneleen, the lack of action taken by the universities themselves is especially disappointing given the fact that the measures to be taken are actually quite clear. Anneleen further applauded Students4Climate for their commitment, but had reservations about the way in which Students4Climate and Youth4Climate presented climate change as a future threat, whereas the consequences of climate change are already being felt, especially in the more vulnerable regions of the world. This led to a discussion of the issue of (white) privilege in relation to climate change.

Anneleen Kenis, Chloé Verlinden, Mohamed Al Marchohi, Tom Cox

On Friday, we met in Ghent for the session hosted by Ghent University. This day focused on action. The morning session was organized by Omar Jabary Salamanca and Siggie Vertommen, who are both involved in the slow science network (and have organised the seminal edition of this doctoral course). Omar gave a short presentation on the roots and history of slow science. Siggie talked about slow science as a feminist issue. Siggie and Omar had invited Shiri Shalmy to give a presentation about antiuniversity. After that, we analyzed the landscape of the university and reflected on a better university and ways in which it could be attained.

Action Day
Ready for action

In the afternoon, we were given action training by Vredesactie/Tractie.

Theories of change discussed during the session with Vredesactie/Tractie


For us as organizers, this year’s course was a success again.

We will be back next year.

See you then!

Slow Science Network

PS [1] An open letter by academics has just been published on vrtnws. It calls for universities to do more to address climate change.

Slow Science DS & Public Debate

Tomorrow and the day after we will hold the second and third session of our doctoral school. We will keep you posted about this!

The doctoral course also includes a debate, which is open to all. In the debate, we will look at the role that the universities can and should play in addressing the challenges posed by climate change. Admission to the debate is free, but you have to register, which you can do here.

Related to the topic of the debate: a group of academics have recently written an open letter, urging the universities to do more to become committed players in the ecological and social transition.

Hoping to see you all in Brussels!

Slow Science Network



What does it mean to be a researcher… 2019 Doctoral Course – Day 1

Last week, we held the first session of this year’s Inter-University Doctoral Schools Course (UGent/VUB/UAntwerpen/KULeuven) regarding the question ‘What does it mean to be a researcher in 21st century academia?’

Rather than starting from a predetermined programme and set of topics, we used open space technology (under the skilful guidance of Elvira) to allow the participants to come up with topics which they felt were relevant. Among other topics, we talked in small  groups about the tension between teaching and research, the “ivory tower”, decolonization, scientific method and objectivity, and mental health. Patricia Schor, who had kindly agreed to provide her own reflections based on the input provided by the participants, went from group to group to collect impressions. After the individual group sessions, we ended with a collective forum where the  groups informed each other about the points that had been discussed. Patricia Schor shared her impressions and thoughts.

We were very glad to see that the course had attracted a heterogeneous group of people, coming from different disciplines (both from the humanities and natural sciences) and from different backgrounds (both Belgian and international Phd-students). Because the format was based on the active participation of the attendants and because it allowed them to share their own experiences, we were able to get to know each other and create a positive group dynamic.

We are looking forward to the next sessions on april 25 and 26. We will keep you posted!

In the context of the course, we are also organizing a public debate. Those interested are more than welcome!

Doctoraatsbeleid doorgelicht

door Freek Van Deynze

De voorbije jaren had ik het geluk en, bij momenten, het ongeluk om dieper te graven in het Vlaamse doctoraatsbeleid zoals het zich de afgelopen dertig jaar ontwikkeld heeft. Het was een proces met momenten van inzicht en actie, maar evenzeer van vallen en opstaan. Vergeten waar men nu juist mee bezig was om dan later de draad opnieuw weer op te pikken en er toch een coherent, verdedigbaar geheel van te proberen maken. De ambiguïteit of het nu gaat over mijn eigen ervaringen of het ontwikkelde doctoraatsbeleid is opzettelijk. De vlieger gaat voor beiden op.

De afgelopen dertig jaar heeft de Vlaamse overheid sterk geïnvesteerd in de productie van doctoraatshouders. Deze investeringen hebben duidelijk hun effect niet gemist. Jaar na jaar behalen steeds meer mensen een doctoraatsdiploma. Door de klemtoon op het kwantitatieve aspect stijgt in Vlaanderen al drie decennia het aantal afgeleverde doctoraatsdiploma’s. Voor sommigen is de numerieke groei nog niet voldoende. Zij vergelijken Vlaanderen graag met Europese koplopers zoals Duitsland, het Verenigd Koninkrijk en enkele Scandinavische landen. Daarbij gaan zij echter soms voorbij aan de lokale context, en verliezen uit het oog dat de historisch gegroeide betekenis en waarde van een doctoraat verschilt van land tot land.

Bovendien is de laatste tien jaar deze groei voornamelijk te wijten aan het grote aantal internationale doctorandi[1]. De Vlaamse instroom stagneert. Dit hoeft niet noodzakelijk een probleem te zijn, maar biedt een kans tot reflectie, consolidatie en versteviging van kwalitatieve en inhoudelijke aspecten.

Op deze vlakken is immers nog heel wat verbetering mogelijk. Pijnpunten zijn de aansluiting met zowel de academische als niet-academische arbeidsmarkt, het statuut van bursalen, gebrekkige begeleiding, de kwaliteit van het onderzoek en onderwaardering van andere vaardigheden. Helemaal nieuw zijn deze problemen niet. Meermaals werden bepaalde aspecten ervan aan de kaak gesteld in de media, en ondernamen de overheden en universiteiten pogingen om deze zaken aan te kaarten. Toch is er nog werk aan de winkel. De volgende aanbevelingen zijn gebaseerd op een historische analyse van het beleid, de eigen werkomgeving en gesprekken met vele andere doctorandi, promotoren en beleidsmakers in een veelvoud aan instanties.

Overheid, bezint eert ge begint! En als dat niet meer lukt, nadat ge begint.

De overheid dient na te denken over de finaliteit die het wil bereiken met de investeringen in het doctoraatsbeleid. Daarbij moet verder gegaan worden dan het louter nastreven van een numerieke ouput en ook enkele inhoudelijke aspecten expliciet onder de loep genomen worden. We dienen ons niet blind te staren op het voorbeeld van de koplopers, maar zouden verder moeten  nagaan waar in eigen land de vraag naar doctoraatsgediplomeerden ligt, en in welke sectoren zij een meerwaarde kunnen leveren

Discussies over de meerwaarde van het doctoraat worden doorgaans gereduceerd tot een vergelijking tussen doctors en mastergediplomeerden. In tegenstelling tot die laatsten zouden deze vlotter aan een job geraken en meer verdienen. Dit zegt echter niks over de meerwaarde van het doctoraat vanuit het oog van de maatschappij die deze financiert, maar louter over de persoonlijke meerwaarde van het behalen van een doctoraat binnen die maatschappij. Het lijkt plausibel om ervan uit te gaan dat geschoolde onderzoekers een meerwaarde kunnen betekenen binnen allerlei sectoren, maar paradoxaal genoeg is dit net een kwestie waar bitter weinig onderzoek over bestaat. Over welke sectoren gaat het? Hoe vertaalt deze meerwaarde zich in verschillende sectoren, en is het doctoraat zoals het nu wordt opgevat wel degelijk beste manier om mensen voor te bereiden op het leveren van deze maatschappelijke bijdrage? Is de manier waarop we heden ten dage investeren in doctoraten wel degelijk de beste manier zijn om bepaalde maatschappelijke en economische doelen te verwezenlijken die wij ermee in verband brengen?

Overheid, zorg voor een duidelijk en eerlijk statuut voor doctorandi.

Wettelijk gezien zitten doctoraten tussen een studenten- en werknemersstatuut in. Dit administratief compromis à la belge brengt heel wat onduidelijkheid en nadelen met zich mee.

Het huidig statuut is voornamelijk gebaseerd op een aantal fiscale rondzendbrieven en juridische precedenten die hierrond ontstaan zijn. Het is minder duidelijk wat nu juist de rechten van doctorandi zijn, en bovendien is het niet vanzelfsprekend om deze af te dwingen.

De weinige duidelijke regels die gepaard gaan met het statuut van bursaal worden op regelmatige basis met de voeten getreden. Doctorandi vervullen meer taken ter ondersteuning van de universitaire gang van zaken dan strikt toegelaten. Dit is ook nodig, want anders heeft de universiteit het lastig om haar onderwijs en onderzoekstaken naar behoren te vervullen. Zij vervullen dus een takenpakket en functie binnen de universiteit die vergelijkbaar is met dat van een werknemer. Toch kan de universiteit, noch de promotor, strikt gezien hiërarchische controle uitoefenen. De huidige situatie is er dus een die uitgaat van goodwill van zowel de promotor als de doctorandus. Het is echter naïef om te denken dat dit om een symmetrische machtsrelatie gaat.

Doordat doctorandi tussen student en werknemer invallen is het ook niet duidelijk wie hen als groep kan vertegenwoordigen. In de praktijk blijken zij niet vertegenwoordigd te worden door studentenorganisaties als de Vlaamse Vereniging van Studenten. Vertegenwoordigers van de AAP-WP geleding binnen universitaire beleidsorganen denken voornamelijk vanuit een universitaire en facultaire logica en komen slechts moeizaam tot een overkoepelend beeld. Het zijn voornamelijk de vakorganisaties die het voortouw hebben genomen en het recht hebben geclaimd om doctorandi te vertegenwoordigen en hen te informeren over hun rechten. De meeste kennis en expertise rond het bursaalstatuut en de problemen die ermee gepaard gaan is bij hen te situeren. Zij dienen dus noodzakelijkerwijze betrokken worden bij een mogelijke herziening van het statuut.

De Vlaamse regering en volksvertegenwoordigers dienen de regie te nemen en het Dehousse-statuut, een federale erfenis van de jaren negentig, aan te passen. De toekenning van een werknemersstatuut aan doctorandi zou een goede vooruitgang betekenen en komaf maken met een aantal van de bestaande problemen. Tevens is het ook een erkenning aan de buitenwereld dat een doctoraat moet erkend worden als onderzoeks- en werkervaring en dat er hier sprake is van early career researchers of junior onderzoekers. Het argument dat doctoreren louter een opleiding is dient van de tafel geveegd te worden.

Overheden, weet dat meten niet alleen weten, maar ook vergeten is

Het aantal afgeleverde doctoraatsdiploma’s is een van de indicatoren in zowat alle financiële verdeelsleutels die Vlaanderen rijk is. Kwantitatieve indicatoren hebben zeker hun nut, maar hun aandeel binnen de financiering van de universiteiten is echter te groot geworden. Dit leidt al snel tot goal displacement, oftewel middel-doel omkering. Scoren op de indicator wordt dan het doel, eerder dan het proberen goed doen op wat die indicator zou moeten indiceren.

Het beleid kan hierdoor contradictorisch zijn. De overheid wil bijvoorbeeld dat doctorandi beter inzetbaar worden gemaakt op de arbeidsmarkt, en zet hun hoop hiervoor in op de zogenaamde doctoraatsopleidingen. Tegelijk incentivized ze de productie van doctoraten en publicaties voor de universiteiten. Voor universiteiten en promoteren loont het dus amper om tijd en geld te investeren in cursussen en opleidingen die deze directe doelen niet dienen. In deze context is het bewonderenswaardig dat de overheid gekozen heeft om het OJO-fonds (Omkadering Jonge Onderzoekers) in het leven te roepen, waarbij bij voorbaat vast ligt waar het geld in geïnvesteerd kan worden. De overheid zal dergelijke ingrepen moeten blijven toepassen waar nodig, in plaats van vast te houden aan principes van autonomie en aangestuurde competitie tussen de universiteiten. Het beleid aan de universiteiten is te belangrijk om alleen over te laten aan universiteiten en professoren.

Ook is er soms sprake van bizarre circulaire redeneringen. Zo worden doctoraatsdiploma’s opgenomen in innovatie-indicatoren. Hierdoor gaat men investeren in doctoraatsdiploma’s. Vervolgens kloppen we ons op de borst omdat Vlaanderen gestegen is op de innovatie-indicator. Maar is er werkelijk sprake van toegenomen innovatie?

Universiteiten, zorg voor een degelijke begeleiding. Ook voor de begeleiders.

Het mentaal welzijn van doctorandi kreeg al behoorlijk wat aandacht in de media. Dit ondanks het taboe dat errond heerst en soms bewust in stand wordt gehouden binnen sommige universitaire beleidskringen. Daarbij beroepen ze zich op een ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’- mentaliteit. Deze gaat echter voorbij aan een aantal zaken. Vanuit het standpunt van de overheid is het niet te verdedigen dat universiteiten als het ware gewoon belastinggeld en doctorandi naar een vogelpikbord blijven gooien in de hoop dat er wel een paar zullen blijven plakken. Bovendien is het uitermate naïef om te geloven dat het al dan niet uitvallen of lijden onder mentale problemen louter te wijten is aan het individu in kwestie. De context speelt een belangrijke rol, en niet iedereen heeft het geluk in de voor hem juiste context terecht te komen.

De problemen die er zijn hebben ook te maken met een simpele mathematische wetmatigheid. De groei van doctoraten heeft immers nooit tred gehouden met de begeleidende groep. Professoren moeten, naast hun al gevulde takenpakket, ook een steeds grotere groep doctorandi begeleiden. Al dertig jaar vragen universiteiten om meer ZAP-leden, maar waar de overheid mee over de brug kwam was nooit meer dan een druppel op de hete plaat.

Momenteel heerst er een piramide-model aan onze universiteiten. Deze zou formeel gezien geen hiërarchie zijn, maar is dat in de praktijk wel. De hiërarchie wordt geacht gelegitimeerd te worden door een verschil in onderzoeksexpertise.  Maar een goed onderzoeker is niet noodzakelijk een goede onderzoeksgroepleider. Al verwacht men dit de facto wel. Bovendien hebben de meest ervaren onderzoekers vaak ook minder tijd voor het onderzoek zelve.

Universiteiten moeten inzetten op een duurzaam HR-beleid dat de verschillende talenten van personen erkent, waardeert en laat groeien. Deze moet gelden voor doctorandi, post-docs en professoren. De overheid dient het kader te creëren waarin dit mogelijk wordt. Het lineair loopbaanmodel waar trechtergewijs meer en meer individuen afvallen dient plaats te maken voor een gedifferentieerder systeem met een stabiel middenkader. Hierbij zullen ook heilige huisjes gesloopt moeten worden, want nog steeds houden heel wat professoren vast aan het ideaal van de academicus die onderzoek, onderwijs en dienstverlening in één figuur verenigt. In de praktijk blijkt dit echter moeilijker te liggen.

Niet iedereen kan, en moet, in alles even goed zijn. Het zal wellicht nog even duren vooraleer we de ideale superacademicus in een proefbuisje kunnen kweken. Tot dan moeten we het hiermee doen.

Universiteiten, werk beter samen voor een afgestemd interuniversitair kader voor doctoral school courses

De Vlaamse overheid pleit al vijfentwintig jaar voor meer samenwerking tussen de universiteiten voor het inrichten van de doctoraatsopleidingen. De laatste tien jaar zijn al heel wat belangrijke stappen gezet. Toch is hier nog verbetering mogelijk. Momenteel hanteren universiteiten verschillende evaluatie- en terugbetalingssystemen. Dit leidt tot een nodeloze administratieve vermenigvuldiging bij het organiseren van een interuniversitaire Doctoral School Course. Een uniform kader voor interuniversitaire Doctoral School courses zorgt voor minder werk, en verhoogt de kennisuitwisseling en contacten tussen doctorandi van verschillende universiteiten.

Universiteiten en professoren, beoordeel meer dan alleen onderzoeksoutput van doctorandi

De inhoud en betekenis van de doctoraatsinput verschoof in het verleden meer en meer van een dik boek naar een bundeling van artikels. Een portfolio-aanpak zou echter beter zijn. In een dergelijk doctoraatsportfolio zouden ook andere elementen ter beoordeling kunnen ingebracht worden dan louter onderzoeksoutput, en dan nog eens onderzoeksoutput binnen een strak academisch keurslijf.

Zo zou ook wetenschapscommunicatie, breed opgevat, moeten kunnen ingebracht worden, maar ook concrete voorbeelden van andere vaardigheden die aangeleerd en versterk zijn tijdens het doctoraatstraject. Op deze manier erkennen en valoriseren we het werk, de tijd en de moeite die doctorandi steken in andere zaken dan louter het onderzoek. Dit ligt in de lijn van het huidige beleid en de verwachtingen die geuit werden in een parlementaire resolutie[2] en het is te verwachten dat een dergelijke regel- en mentaliteitswijzingen ook positieve gevolgen zal hebben voor de bredere maatschappij. Uiteraard mag dit geen verplichting worden en moet het onderzoekscomponent behouden worden, maar dienen ook andere elementen in de globale evaluatie ingebracht te worden, eventueel ter compensatie van een lagere output in wetenschappelijke artikels.

Internationale doctorandi verdienen meer dan pump ‘n’ dump

Zoals eerder vermeld is de toegenomen doctoraatsoutput de laatste tien jaar voornamelijk te wijten aan de groeiende groep internationale doctorandi. Het is een groep die veel meerwaarde genereert voor de universiteiten, zowel wat betreft het aantal afgeleverde doctoraatsdiploma’s en onderzoeksoutput, maar niet altijd als een volwaardig lid van de Vlaamse academische gemeenschap behandeld wordt. Ze zijn vaker tewerkgesteld op precaire, kortdurende contracten, genieten niet altijd van dezelfde sociale rechten en kunnen minder terugvallen op een sociaal netwerk. Velen van hen zijn ook tewerkgesteld op beurzen van het thuisland, waarvan de koopkracht in Vlaanderen niet te vergelijken is met die van lokale bursalen. Het reeds indrukwekkende obstakelparcours voor het uitbouwen van een academische carrière is voor hen vaak nog lastiger te navigeren, onder meer dankzij de ons-kent-ons mentaliteit en academische inteelt die in bepaalde departementen nog steeds welig tiert. Mensen die naar hier komen om aan een doctoraat te werken verdienen het om beter behandeld te worden dan als goedkope werkkrachten die makkelijk van de hand kunnen gedaan worden wanneer ze hun rechten opeisen of wanneer ze indruk wekken niets meer te kunnen opleveren.

Overheden en universiteiten kunnen werk maken van extra sociale en financiële ondersteuning voor deze doelgroep. Deelname aan officiële universitaire beleidsorganen moet ook mogelijk worden in andere talen dan het Nederlands, zodat ook deze groep makkelijker met eigen stem kan spreken.

Ter conclusie

De universiteiten en overheid hebben de voorbije decennia flink aan de weg getimmerd en een positieve weg ingeslagen. Meer mensen dan ooit tevoren krijgen de kans om zich gedurende een aantal jaren zich te verdiepen in een onderwerp en onderzoeksvaardigheden en ervaring op te doen. Ook komt er enige aandacht voor hun positie binnen de universiteit en de bredere maatschappij, en hoe dezen op elkaar kunnen afgestemd worden.

Het gevaar dat nu echter dreigt is dat men op de lauweren rust, er van uit gaand dat de grote problemen opgelost zijn doordat een aantal nieuwe structuren opgezet zijn en grote declaraties afgelegd zijn. Toch is er nog werk nodig om de ingeslagen weg te verankeren en te doen doorsijpelen tot op de werkvloer. Universitair beleid in het algemeen, en doctoraatsbeleid in het bijzonder is slechts af en toe een kwestie van geconcentreerde politieke aandacht en mobilisatie geweest. Nu de aandacht weer wat aan het wegebben is het aan ons om verder te hameren op de nog bestaande pijnpunten.




Slow Science interview #2 – an interview with Javier Ruiz-Tagle (4/4)

Author: Sofia Pagliarin

The cultural hegemony of the English language: a way out!

Foto carnetJavier Ruiz-Tagle is an Assistant Professor specialised in housing segregation, housing policies and urban politics and working at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He completed his PhD in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In our previous post, we left our discussion suggesting that there might be ways to overcome the cultural hegemony of the English language in academia.

In this post, I summarise Javier’s point of view on how academic production could become ‘multi-lingual’, and how conferences and events could be organised differently to represent and reflect non-Anglo-Saxon cultures and contexts of scientific production.


Sofia: Javier, do you have practical suggestions in mind to overcome the hegemonic ‘mono-linguism’ of the English language in the future?

Javier: Yes, well, the key factor here would be technology. A conference should not only be multi-lingual, but language barriers should ideally be overcome. So that’s why I don’t believe there can be a lingua franca – not even Esperanto – but that there should be many at the same time.

For instance, at a conference, everybody should be able to speak in whatever language they want (at least the 7 most spoken in the Global South: Mandarin Chinese, Indi, Arabic, Spanish, French, Portuguese and English). In an exercise of imagination, for my ideal conference, the name tag should also include the native spoken language of the person, and everybody would go around with his/her smartphone and set the language of that person to communicate with each other. We could talk to our smartphones and then let the app translate to the language of the person we are talking with – that’s even already possible today. Or when speakers are presenting their papers or talking at a plenary, the content of their speech would be translated simultaneously in several languages on the screen, so that people can read it in their own languages. Another thing would be to make conferences more virtual – the ones who can make it to conferences in the Global North from the Global South are just the privileged – because of the cost of the travel, but also because they are the ones who can actually communicate in English.
Sofia: So a sort of not multi-lingual, but ‘post-linguistic’ conference?

Javier: In a way, yes. Technology can really help us overcome linguistic barriers – maybe even in the next few years, and I think for instance that Google could be interested in showing off its products during a conference – that’s why I say we should transition to a type of communication that does not necessarily flow into and through the English language.
Sofia: …A transition?

Javier: Yes. So we could in the future have a conference in the Global South where people can talk in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Indi, Chinese, Arabic, English, but without feeling ‘less than’ the English-native speakers just because they don’t know or command English as it is expected nowadays, for instance, because they could not access to a certain type of (elite) education. Of course it’s another thing when it comes to the translation of a paper – but for spoken English I think we already have the technology to overcome its use in the near future.
Sofia: But don’t you think that we would then give technology a huge amount of power? We would let technology translate our words without us having any control on this process of translation.

Javier: Yes, that’s also true, but what we would gain from the possibility to speak in our own language would be much larger than what we would lose. It’s a trade-off.
Sofia: What else could be done to overcome the hegemony of the English language?

Javier: Well, another thing I am working at the moment is to build a network of scholars from the Global South regarding urban topics – for instance from other countries in Latin America, but also from South Africa, Lebanon, India and China. The establishment and expansion of this network over time would be extremely important to overcome the Anglo-Saxon-based networks where our knowledge about the Global South is conveyed (which means, not passing through London to have exchanges with other places in the Global South).

An additional thing is – although it’s not my favourite – to publish both in English and in Spanish (or Portuguese), for instance. Then you increase the citations, and hence the journal’s impact factor , by increasing the audience the journal reaches to. But of course there are also resistances – many would just like to keep writing only in Spanish or Portuguese, or are against translations, because they argue that even the best translations are never like the original texts. I think the same happens in France.

In my point of view, I would be more than happy to loose something in the translation of a book or an article if that knowledge can be disseminated more broadly to other audiences. It’s a trade-off, like the one about technology we were discussing previously.

Sofia: But some journals for instance are already translating into French, Spanish or Chinese the abstracts of articles written in English.

Javier: Yes, but this does not mean that they cite it, and make their impact factor increase. For instance, many English-speaking scholars in urban studies writing about Latin America do not cite literature written in Spanish or Portuguese . They cite other scholars who are like them, and who write about Latin America. As a consequence, we from Latin America cannot share our knowledge beyond the ‘language barrier’ set through the English language, nor get recognised for the knowledge we produce.

Therefore, it is not contemplated that there might be a knowledge about Latin America that is different from the view that the Global North has about this area of the Global South. For me it’s clear that any study about Latin American should at least be in three languages – Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Sofia: Thanks a lot Javier for sharing all this with us!

Javier: Thanks to you.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Slow Science.


Slow Science interview #2 – an interview with Javier Ruiz-Tagle (3/4)

Author: Sofia Pagliarin

The cultural hegemony of the English language: the lock-in

Foto carnetJavier Ruiz-Tagle is an Assistant Professor specialised in housing segregation, housing policies and urban politics and working at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He completed his PhD in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In our previous post , Javier and I talked about the asymmetry in academic production, which is dominated by (generally native) English speakers, even when topics are about other cultures and contexts.

In this post, we focus more on how we got to this point – that English has become the language we have to use in academic production and communication.
Sofia: Javier, ok, that’s a fact: the English language is culturally hegemonic.

Javier: Yes.

Sofia: But in the past, in Europe, we had Latin, then French, then German as a ‘common language code’ or ‘passpartout language’ across countries, for commerce, trade, science and literature, and historically there have always been hierarchical ‘power centres’. Now there is English and London, as you said… so why is this necessarily a problem?

Javier: The use of English as a hegemonic language is not a problem per sé, but its consequences are a problem. If we restrict our discussion to scientific production, and within it to the social sciences and specifically to urban studies, which is my field of expertise, it is undeniable that academic production is asymmetrical. It is a North-South relationship, not South-North. I mean, if English would be such a lingua franca, as you say, the Global South would contribute equally or similarly to scientific production. But this is not the case.

Sofia: Can you tell me more about this asymmetry?

Javier: Sure. Let’s start from acknowledging that in the world the most spoken language is Mandarin Chinese. Then we have Spanish, and at the third place we find English. It is clear that the role of English as a lingua franca – as you call it – isn’t neutral, but that it is related to specific path-dependent processes and lock-ins whose persistence is inevitably linked to questions of power and history.

The hegemony of the English language does not stem from its numerical hierarchy – as it is the third most spoken language – but of the specific historical process that made the English language gain a certain status that is now difficult to change. Basically the supremacy of English is a consequence of the influence of the British Empire from the 18th century, and US neo-colonialism since the mid‐20th century.

The use of language is not neutral – the consideration of the English language as a so-called lingua franca is a false universalism. For instance, when in a book the author refers to ‘the city’, it is clear that the author has in mind the US or the European city model.

Therefore, the use of the English language is an aspect of a cultural hegemony that has consolidated over time. It didn’t get to that hegemonic position by accident.

Sofia: Are you saying that all academic production is linguistically biased?

Javier: Yes. Hegemony has a hierarchical structure, which in this case is organised not only around the use of a certain language, but also through ‘centres of knowledge’, for instance in London, and then of course through journals, catalogues, impact factors, and so on. Again, the US fought its ideological battle after World War II also through science and scientific practices. The scientific dominance of the US was grounded on a positive feedback loop: first, the larger the involvement of scholars (directly or indirectly) in Anglo‐Saxon academia, the more consolidated its reputation and hence, second, the higher the attraction for scholars to study, research and publish in English. Third, as a consequence, Anglo‐Saxon academia becomes more important, as well as the use of the English language. Of course, the larger the predominance of English, the more the academic audience gets involved in Anglo-Saxon academia, so the loop begins again.

Sofia: And in what other ways is the cultural hegemony of the English language played out in your own experience?

Javier: For instance, the fact that scholars from the Global South have to make an extra effort. This goes of course also for those scholars in the Global North whose native language is not English. They also have to make an extra effort.

But what I often tell to my students is that, as critical scholars in urban studies, we have to do four-times the effort of a native English speaker. This is because I try not to give translated texts to my students. They should learn to access books and article written in English on their own. This is because I once took the 300 keywords in the leading journal for urban studies in Latin America – and translated those words into English. I searched for those keywords in academic catalogues and the result was that those keywords in English appeared 11 times more on average than they did in their Spanish version. So if I would show my students only academic literature in Spanish, I would basically be hiding from them 90% of the knowledge in urban studies.

So we in the Global South have to make four different efforts: we have to be acquainted with mainstream theories and also critical theories of the North – so that’s already two efforts – and also with mainstream and critical theories of the Global South – so that’s the other two efforts. But despite that – we aren’t even recognised for it. The hegemony of the English language is so powerful that they treat you differently if you cannot properly speak in English. This is discrimination based on language.

Sofia: So how shall we change this system? Is there a way out?

Javier: Yes, I think there is. The first step is to recognise that there is not only one lingua franca, but many. And conferences and events can and should be organised differently, and knowledge communicated differently as well.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Slow Science.