Too Close to an Oil Company?

A leading Dutch business school is accused of giving influence over the curriculum and admissions to an oil company.

June 1, 2017
 

A row has broken out in the Netherlands over a contract between one of the country’s top business schools and Royal Dutch Shell that appears to give the oil company influence over curricula and admissions.

The Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University Rotterdam, is also accused of failing to declare that it was paid more than 300,000 euros ($337,000) by Shell to produce a report that recommended lowering corporate tax rates to stop multinational companies moving abroad.

The revelations are part of a wide-ranging report -- which the school has dismissed as “tendentious,” “biased” and containing factual errors -- by the environmental think tank Changerism that investigates the links between fossil fuel companies and the school.

It has triggered calls in the Dutch Parliament for a debate about links between fossil fuel companies and universities.

Using freedom of information laws, Changerism uncovered a contract, signed in 2012, that was designed to boost ties between the school and Shell. It commits to establishing a steering group of professors and Shell company managers to “potentially influence the design of the RSM curricula and the profile of students who attend the B.Sc./M.Sc./M.B.A. programs.”

Further, it allows Shell to select “experts” as speakers, “who will contribute to the students’ understanding of Shell.” It also states that “ideally, Shell would be able and willing to feature in the master’s courses of the seven M.Sc. programs” from which the oil company was particularly interested in recruiting.

In response, a statement released by the school said that “companies have no say in education or research.”

“Neither Shell nor any other company plays a formal part” in creating curricula, it said.

The school added that “of course, external organizations and stakeholders are involved during the accreditation process and program evaluations.” A spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the contract promising Shell “influence” over curricula was “unfortunate phrasing.”

Another of the report’s accusations is that, in 2009, the school carried out a consultation project that looked at the Netherlands’ attractiveness as a base for the headquarters of multinational companies. Shell paid more than €300,000 ($337,000) toward the research, the report claims, but this was never disclosed. The project recommended that the country cut taxes to prevent multinationals moving abroad. Shell is headquartered in the Netherlands.

The school’s spokeswoman said that an independent commission would examine the claims in the report, “A Pipeline of Ideas: How the Rotterdam School of Management Facilitates Climate Change by Collaborating With the Fossil Fuel Industry.” The school would also make contracts with companies available online, she added.

Changerism argues that any links with the oil industry make the business school “complicit” in climate change -- an issue of direct relevance to the institution, it observes, pointing out that Erasmus University’s campus is below sea level.

The report blames public funding cuts and a pursuit of business school rankings that reward high graduate salaries for creating an environment that increased the pressure for such links.

A Shell spokesman referred Times Higher Education to the school’s statement.

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