The University of Groningen was “creative” with its bookkeeping in its efforts to finance preparations for a branch campus in China, according to the Financieel Dagblad.
Translation by Traci White
On Friday, the Financieel Dagblad published an article on the university’s financial approach to the China campus based on findings by Jasper Been, the chairperson of the Democratische Academie Groningen student faction in the University Council. According to the article, the university spent millions of euros which originally came from tax payers on the plans.
In 2015, the University of Groningen announced that it would be working together with China Agricultural University to start a branch campus of the Dutch academic institution at an existing campus in the Chinese coastal city of Yantai. In that same year, then-academic minister Jet Bussemaker stated that no tax payer money could be used to finance the plans.
“Pulling out all the stops”
The FD cites an external accountant from PricewaterhouseCooper who worked with the RUG who described the university’s approach as “pulling out all the stops” to recategorise funds from the institution’s 2015 annual report as “private” instead of “public”. The RUG reportedly created more financial wiggle room for itself by reclassifying 950,000 euros in public funding as private. The university also allegedly had access to further funding through one of its own subsidiaries.
DAG member Been filed freedom of information requests in order to access documents about the financial model for the campus plans. Their contents led Been to the conclusion that the university underestimated the time and money that would be necessary to set up the Chinese campus.
After three years of pursuing the plans, the University Council informed the board that they would not support the current proposal. The board has continued to express its desire to collaborate with its Chinese partners in some form.
The FD also writes that the Dutch Education Inspectorate has scrutinised the university’s financial model for the China project. The inspectorate concluded in a confidential notice that a “considerable” amount of public funds had gone toward the China plans.
A university spokesperson told the FD in the article that the board of directors were operating in “unfamiliar and extremely complicated territory” in their efforts to set up a Chinese branch, effectively forcing the university to get creative.