The Utrecht Young Academy wants to make itself heard and influence policy makers in a positive way when it comes to science and education policies. UYA follows the developments in this area closely and gives (un)solicited advice when needed.
Within Utrecht University, the chair of UYA is a member of the Advisory Committee Research (Adviescommissie Onderzoek) and we are involved in formulating the Strategic Plan 2021-2024. We are also represented through our members amongst others in the Public Engagement Task Force and the Open Science Community Utrecht
This page shows the statements that have been issued by the Utrecht Young Academy. These can also be found on our Twitter feed, where responses are always welcome. Comments and responses can also be sent to email@example.com
The Utrecht Young Academy has signed a letter of Scientists for Future together with all other Young Academies of Dutch universities. With this letter, academics of all research disciplines ask university boards to put pressure on the ABP pension fund. Academics want ABP to revise their investment policy in the fossil fuel industry as soon as possible and bring it in line with the Paris climate goals.
The Young Academies unite early and mid-career academics from all research fields within a Dutch university. They agree that investing in fossil fuels not only puts the Paris goals further out of reach, with considerable societal risks, but concurrently also causes financial risks to the returns. The broad support of this initiative by all Young Academies of Dutch universities is remarkable.
Academics affiliated with the various Young Academies feel the responsibility to inform on potential societal risks. They are at the forefront of scientific knowledge. The Paris climate goals and the national climate agreement call for an ever steeper decrease in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to avert extensive climate change in the future. The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) gave a warning last week that a global average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees can be reached much earlier than previously assumed. In addition, there are financial risks associated with large investments in an industry that is being phased out. Such stranded assets are an investment risk for pension funds.
Investment funds can play an important, leading role in the transition away from fossil fuels, building on the knowledge of academics whose pension money they manage. “The scientific consensus is undeniable: more should be done to reduce the use of fossil energy. The science is clear on this. This becomes problematic when the pension contributions of the same academics are invested to stimulate the use of fossil fuels,” Peter Bijl, member of the Utrecht Young Academy, explains.
ABP is the pension fund of Dutch universities, amongst others, and says it has 17 billion euros in investments in fossil energy. This means that the pension assets of academics are used for investments that oppose scientific consensus and political agreements. “ABP has indicated that it already considerably invests in sustainable energy, but that does not relieve them of the need to divest from fossil energy at the same time,” Peter Bijl states.
According to the Young Academies, ABPs shareholder engagement policy, in which they claim that by sitting down with fossil fuel companies they can exert pressure towards the energy transition, is ineffective. ABP also regularly votes against sustainability motives in shareholders' meetings. That is why academics affiliated with the Young Academies are asking the university boards to exert pressure on ABP together. ABP must (1) divest from the fossil fuel industry and (2) install an independent committee that checks whether their investment portfolio is in line with the climate goals.
As a diverse group of early-career teachers and researchers from a broad range of disciplines across Utrecht University, the members of the Utrecht Young Academy are acutely aware of the significant changes and challenges to university teaching brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Teaching professionals and support staff at Utrecht University have done a wonderful job of responding to this unprecedented situation.
Nevertheless, during this time of uncertainty there are important points for teachers to keep in mind as we near the end of this academic year and prepare for the next. The Utrecht Young Academy believes that there are five areas in particular that merit immediate and concerted attention:
1. Online teaching is not a substitute
At the moment we are all discovering, many of us for the first time, the range of digital tools available for distance learning. Even though we should take this as an opportunity to reflect on traditional forms of teaching and how we might change these in the future, it is important to recognize that there can be no substitute for face-to-face interactions and in-person teaching.
2. Listening to students’ needs should be a priority
It is vital that we consider the vast diversity of our students. Many of them will be facing familial, economic and medical situations that will make it difficult for them to focus on their studies. In addition, not everyone will have a computer of their own, they may not have access to a quiet space to study, or may have limited internet access. One of our main priorities should be to listen to the needs and interests of students.
3. Safeguarding the quality of our programmes is crucial
It is clear that the learning activities we have organized now for our students are not always aligned with the intended learning outcome, especially for courses that would have taken place in site-specific environments such as hospitals or labs. If students are not achieving these intended learning outcomes, we need to consider how we can maintain them at program level.
4. Addressing growing inequalities in academia
It is critical that we think about inequalities in academia, both for students and teachers. From the students’ perspective, it is important to keep in mind that some students are financially vulnerable, and from a teacher’s perspective, it is imperative to recognize and discuss the disparate impact of the changes on those with larger teaching responsibilities, temporary contracts, greater home and care responsibilities, and those who have stepped in to help colleagues. We need to tackle a range of issues, such as preserving a healthy work-life balance, evaluating performance and its consequences and how the current workload will impact other responsibilities and tasks, such as research duties and leadership roles.
5. Taking steps now to prepare for the near future
It is imperative that we start thinking about how to organize teaching and learning activities conform to new rules of social distancing. This may mean smaller groups, translating into fewer contact hours between teachers and students, or more blended learning environments.
Read our full statement here.
From the start of the new application rounds for Veni and Vidi funding, the NWO introduces the ‘embedding guarantee’. The aim is to strike a better balance between the number of applications and the number of funding allocations, increase the award percentage and improve human resources. When submitting a proposal, Vidi candidates now have to include a statement from the intended research institution that the applicant will either be appointed as a tenure track candidate or will be offered a permanent appointment on being awarded funding.
The members of the Utrecht Young Academy (UYA) are pleased that the NWO concretely addresses the issues surrounding human resource policy and workload at the university. However, we also express our concerns regarding the negative consequences an embedding guarantee can have for young candidates, especially because of the abrupt implementation of the policy. In our letter you can find a summary of the main concerns (in Dutch).
This statement is a response to the return of the NWO Open Competition within the Social Sciences and Humanities. Please read our statement below.
De Utrecht Young Academy (UYA) is verheugd over het terugkeren van de Open Competitie (OC) binnen SGW, maar onderschrijft de zorgen van DJA dat de carrières van jonge onderzoekers zwaar onder druk komen te staan. Wij noemen drie argumenten.
Ten eerste stelt NWO voor om de aanvraag alleen open te stellen voor post-Vici onderzoekers. De UYA is bezorgd dat deze restrictie in OC-aanvragen ertoe zal leiden dat de onderzoeksagenda van jonge onderzoekers grotendeels zal worden bepaald door de post-Vici generatie. Het lage honoreringspercentages voor de Vidi in dit domein (11%) laat duidelijk zien dat jonge onderzoekers al zeer gelimiteerd zijn in mogelijkheden voor financiering van hun eigen onderzoek. Verdere afhankelijkheid van senior onderzoekers is wat UYA betreft onwenselijk.
Ten tweede vrezen wij dat het belang van de uitkomst van de Veni/Vidi/Vici-procedures nog groter wordt voor de doorgroei- en ontwikkelingsmogelijkheden van jonge onderzoekers. Zeker nu de OC tot stand heeft kunnen komen, mede omdat andere programma’s, waarop jong talent wel een beroep kon doen, zijn opgeheven ter financiering van de OC. Het binnenhalen van onderzoeksgelden is echter hét pad voor jonge onderzoekers om door te groeien binnen de academie. Wij zijn bezorgd dat het beperken van die paden, zoals nu gebeurt, er de facto voor zal zorgen dat de doorgroei- en ontwikkelingsmogelijkheden van jong talent worden verminderd.
Dat brengt ons bij een derde punt: jonge talenten zijn de drijvende krachten van universiteiten; zij maken met hun massa de universiteiten (internationaal) zichtbaar, en zijn op de vloer een belangrijke spil in onderzoeks- en onderwijsinnovatie. In onze visie moet deze groep gemotiveerd blijven en uitzicht blijven hebben op kansen; investering in plaats van uitsluiting verdient wat betreft de UYA de voorkeur.
The Utrecht Young Academy (UYA) is dedicated to multidisciplinarity and diversity in research and education. The advice of the Van Rijn-Commission - the redistribution of money - would be disastrous for alpha, gamma, and medicine majors due to the break-even demand.
These are, according to the VNSU, 'disciplines of great value to society that are already dominated by high workload and other bottlenecks'. The redistribution (retracting money from these disciplines) will only increase the pressure and problems in these sectors. For this reason, UYA argues that extra resources need to become available to facilitate budget increase for both beta/technical and alpha/gamma sciences.
Only by combining insights from these scientific fields can we face big challenges such as the climate crisis, world inequality, large-scale conflicts, and the increasing digitalisation of our society.