The academic feeling of superiority

Column lecturer-researcher Nathalie van de Zande

On 14 March, Mr. Jan Derksen, emeritus professor of clinical psychology, begins his letter to the NRC as follows: "In the relentless attempts by the Dutch higher professional education (HBO) programmes to resemble universities, a next phase has now arrived: 'professional doctor (PD)’.”

In the rest of his letter, he lashes out against everything he thinks is wrong with the HBO, from a sense of inferiority to a lack of identity, and in passing also takes a swipe at the scientific research culture at both HBO and university. As a researcher who has been active in both the HBO and the university, I feel compelled to respond to this.

In the relentless attempts of the Dutch universities to get as high up in their ivory towers as possible, Mr Derksen is doing here what academics always do: he is criticising everything that does not fit into their highly-skilled mould. First, he criticised the introduction of the terms 'bachelor' and 'master', intended to better reflect the internationalisation of education and to simplify the transfer of knowledge. Now it is about the introduction of the title 'professional doctor', intended to bring research and practice closer together. The average PhD graduate has no interest in progression and simplification and looks down on something as trivial as practical experience!

The academic institutions' sense of superiority is apparently so great that instead of seeing the HBO as an associate and one of the steps on a common staircase towards good education and research, they prefer to kick the ladder out from under them.

Maybe it is because of the relentless criticism of the limited usefulness of most scientific research. Or maybe it is the excessive subsidy mentality and the distorted publication culture. Perhaps it is because of the extremely narrow path to the academic summit, a path mainly tailored to ageing white men and where there is only room for a few. Problems that the HBO is much less confronted with. Bringing the other down to make yourself look better is a sign of weakness. The burden of inferiority does not lie with the HBO’s, as Mr Derksen claims, but with the universities themselves, who feel that they are being surpassed on all sides.

It is also notable that Mr Derksen appears to be attacking his own academic culture, claiming that most university studies waste time teaching research skills. Evidently, he thinks that scientific methodology at any level is a waste of time. He seems to have forgotten that an inquisitive attitude and the associated analytical capacities are very useful to any professional, not just those who conduct research. It would be wise of Mr Derksen to reach out to the HBO, instead of spouting blindly down from his ivory tower. Hopefully, articles like this are the last throes of a dying breed: the arrogant academic. An interesting topic for a professional doctorate, perhaps?

Nathalie van de Zande, lecturer-researcher Healthy Region