The analysis in this section proceeds in three steps. In the Netherlands political and media attention is often focused on the three I’s: immigration, integration, and Islam. Consequently, the subtopic ‘Islamic schools’ is an interesting case for exploring the combined politicisation and mediatisation of research-policy dialogues in migrant integration. With reference to Islamic schools, it is clear that policy dialogues have become not just strongly politicised but also mediatised, which will affect the nature of research-policy dialogues as well. The subsequent analysis of the research-policy dialogue on educational segregation, the second subtopic in this section, suggests that for that policy topic the impact of mediatisation has been more limited. The third subtopic, naturalisation, explores whether mediatised and non-mediatised research-policy dialogues on this politicised topic not only exist alongside each other, but whether they also constitute alternative communication channels between researchers and policymakers.
12.4.1 Islamic Schools
Most interviewees argued that after 9/11 the discussion about Islamic schools had changed – in fact, before 9/11 it was hardly an issue at all. It was simply taken for granted that Muslims in the Netherlands were using their constitutional right to establish their own schools. Like the Catholics in the early twentieth century, this would probably facilitate their societal emancipation. Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers (1982–1994, a Christian Democrat), for example, had encouraged Muslims to take this route. In 2003, however, then Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende (2002–2010, also a Christian Democrat) warned that Islamic schools should not become ‘prisons of disadvantage’ (cited by Karsten 2006). Yet at the national level, there have been no official policies against Islamic schools. Their number is ‘not large’: in 2008, there were 44 Islamic schools for primary education in the Netherlands (Herweijer 2009: 43). Only 6 % of all pupils with a Moroccan or Turkish background were enrolled in them. Still, opponents have argued that Islamic schools worsen segregation and hinder integration (ibid.). Observations by some of the respondents confirm the argument by some scholars (Entzinger 2010; Sunier 2014) that the migrant integration debate in the Netherlands has ‘Islamised’, rather than the Netherlands itself (Fortuyn 1997). The mass media’s obsession with ‘Islam’ sometimes comes to the fore in surprising ways, as it can affect the use of expert knowledge even in seemingly unrelated domains.
One respondent (interview with educational researcher), for example, recalls how his research (with colleagues) on homeschooling was received initially. Homeschooling in the Netherlands mainly involves a small number of traditional Christians, who feel that no school adequately reflects their religious beliefs. The researchers basically concluded that ‘no dramatic’ situations existed (interviews with several scholars), i.e. that the parents involved educated their children well and that their children participated in society in an adequate manner. Parliament and the Minister of Education decided that no (additional) law was needed to regulate homeschooling. Two months later, however, one Islamic school had to close down amidst fierce media attention due to concerns over quality, and some parents said that they would rather start homeschooling than send their children to a non-Islamic school. Suddenly media interest in research on homeschooling exploded (interview). The minister responsible was quick to announce that he would scrutinise the existing regulations for homeschooling to prevent the Muslim parents’ homeschooling plans. In other words, the initial effect of the study was that policymakers concluded that they did not have to worry about the topic of homeschooling too much. No legislation process was started, even though the researchers had advised the introduction of additional laws to regulate homeschooling. Due to the publicity about the Muslim parents’ homeschooling intentions, however, in the second instance policymakers seemed to draw different lessons from the study.
Can we conclude that the political primacy in research-policy dialogues, which we noted earlier, has been replaced in some sub-domains by something like ‘media primacy’? In the next section, a key episode in the research-policy dialogue on educational segregation in the Netherlands is analysed to illustrate the fact that migrant integration researchers sometimes play a very pro-active role in mediatised research-policy dialogues themselves. Neither policymakers nor individual experts are merely playthings of media forces.
12.4.2 Educational Segregation
The issue of educational segregation in the Netherlands, often referred to as the issue of ‘black’ versus ‘white’ schools, has been on the public agenda since the 1980s (Herweijer and Van den Brink 2011, p. 1). Educational segregation in the Netherlands can largely be explained by residential segregation, but it is also related to the Dutch system of free school choice (Herweijer 2009). Parents are not obliged to choose for their children a school in the area where they live. National policies to combat educational segregation have been virtually absent. Since 2006, though, ‘school boards, municipal authorities and childcare providers have been required to consult with each other with a view to achieving a more balanced distribution of pupils across schools’ (Herweijer 2009, p. 14). In the period 2007–2011, the national government also supported pilots in 12 cities ‘intended to identify effective interventions at a local level to reduce segregation’ (ibid.).
Overall, educational research in the Netherlands is a well-developed area, with most of the funds being controlled by the government directly or indirectly (via the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, NWO). Several established research institutes compete for funding. For these institutes, and the individual researchers affiliated to them, being part of this network is essential. Researchers outside of this dialogue structure find it much harder to get their projects funded and to get direct access to policymakers. Nonetheless, one of the best-known of these ‘solitary experts’, Professor Jaap Dronkers of Maastricht University (formerly European University Institute Florence, 2001–2009), pro-actively uses the media to inform the public and, by extension, policymakers.
In June 2010, Jaap Dronkers gave his inaugural lecture at Maastricht University, just after the success of Geert Wilders of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party in the national elections. Based on PISA data (in particular on reading skills of 15-year-olds), he argued that ethnic diversity in schools hampers educational achievements, also in primary education. In its press statement, Maastricht University emphasised certain ‘newsworthy’ elements of the lecture, but it did not mention that the data used pertained neither to the Netherlands nor to primary school pupils. The professor also pro-actively sought media attention himself and he received a lot of it (national TV news, several newspapers, including the front page of NRC Handelsblad). On its website, the largest newspaper of the Netherlands stated that ‘Many races in classes leads to poor achievement’ (de Telegraaf).Footnote 2 For the first time in years, Jaap Dronkers was invited to give a lecture at the Ministry of Education, where he summarised his inaugural lecture. A couple of months later, the new Minister of Education, in a cabinet that depended on support from Geert Wilders, announced that the national government no longer aimed at reducing segregation in education.
On the one hand, this episode could be depicted as a clear example of how social scientists can influence public policies on controversial issues via the media. Such a storyline would reveal how his ‘dramatic’Footnote 3 contribution silenced the argument in favour of fostering ethnically mixed schools. It became the ‘final blow’ – or at least it gave ammunition to the Minister (interview with educational scholar). On the other hand, jumping to this conclusion would be paradoxical, because to a considerable extent this research-policy dialogue centred on whether Jaap Dronkers had behaved unscientifically, i.e. whether he had made ‘rather definite and generalising statements on the basis of one study’, ‘especially in the media’.Footnote 4 The DIAMINT fieldwork made clear that even in this case, mentioned by virtually all respondents as an example of an extremely mediatised research-policy dialogue, the expert did not ‘force a political decision via the media’. Instead, his lecture was used to substantiate a pre-existing political preference, and party political dynamics offer a convincing explanation for this. In contrast, in 2007 – i.e. in a less contested political context – a similar critical research report was not used to abolish the national policy against educational segregation. Even more than before, fighting educational segregation was simply framed in an ‘integration and citizenship’ perspective instead of an ‘educational achievements’ perspective (interview). In other words: this extreme case shows that it is too simple to argue that ‘experts can choose to influence policymakers via the media’. Instead, actual knowledge utilisation always seems to be the result of a complex interplay between political factors and factors related to the media.
The DIAMINT research also suggested that the success of Jaap Dronkers in getting media attention comes with certain costs. As noted above, some other researchers found his behaviour ‘unscientific’: they did not trust the validity of his claim. Furthermore, by taking a quite extreme position – which of course can partly explain why he received so much media attention – Jaap Dronkers also ran the risk of alienating rather than pleasing policymakers.Footnote 5 These themes will be picked up in the following section on naturalisation.
In the 1980s, access to formal citizenship was still seen as a useful step in the integration process. Nowadays most parties define it as its pinnacle, or the ‘first prize’ as Rita Verdonk, Minister for Immigration and Integration in two centre-right cabinets (2003–2007), called it. In the past decade, research-policy dialogues on naturalisation mainly concerned the attempts by subsequent governments to make access to Dutch nationality more difficult. Several plans were introduced publicly, but were actually never put to a vote in parliament. Other attempts, however, succeeded (Van Oers 2013), for example when standardised naturalisation tests were introduced in 2003 (interviews).
Research on naturalisation in the Netherlands is scarce. It is mainly done by legal scholars, some of whom have been watching – and partly influencing – the developments in this domain for decades. The policy positions of these experts are generally less strict than those of politicians. They argue, for example, that immigrants should not have to denounce the nationality of their country of origin. Dual nationalities for them simply reflect the fact that people can have durable bonds with more than one state. However the manner in which they defend these positions (i.e. the tone of their message) is quite different. Furthermore – and crucially – different experts tend to use different channels to try and influence the policymaking process in this domain. Some have a very pro-active role in mediatised research-policy dialogues and regularly criticise the national government in public debate. This often involves using strong language. Others keep quite a low profile and hardly perform in the media at all. This does not mean, however, that the former have a stronger influence on policymakers (via the media) then the latter. ‘Behind-the-scenes’, that is in relatively unknown national and international legal advisory bodies or in private settings like informal lunches, the impact of individual experts can be ‘quite substantial’ (interview). However, it is important to distinguish between ‘details and major issues’: ‘The political climate (…) is very important. (…) But okay, within that politicised framework one tends to listen to scientists and there is still some space, especially for legal advice’ (interview).
This view on mediatised and non-mediatised research-policy dialogues on naturalisation is not only advanced by experts themselves. As a former top civil servant notes, some experts ‘can be very cynical and sarcastic’, always wanting ‘to take some further steps’. Yet experts who are too ‘vigorous’ are ‘a bit difficult to cite’ (interview). Other experts give priority to taking ‘into account the political field surrounding the issue at hand’.
Summing up, the fieldwork on naturalisation confirmed the hypothesis derived from the fieldwork on educational segregation that there are relations between the tone and content of the messages of experts, their media presence, and the usefulness of their expertise as perceived by policymakers. Crucially, direct (formal or informal) access to policymakers emerges as an important factor, rather than indirect access via the media. There are indications that experts who have no alternative channels choose more active roles in mediatised research-policy dialogue structures.
The roles taken by individual scientists in mediatised research-policy dialogues may also be connected with knowledge utilisation outcomes. Experts whose positions in the public debate are considered ‘too radical’ by policymakers may no longer receive commissioned research assignments, formal invitations to join advisory committees, or informal invitations to meet top officials and ministers. As Engbersen (2009) notes, the ‘loyalty-option’ implies some degree of ‘political realism’, i.e. conformity to the parameters perceived by the powers in office.