Column: Alex Nedelcu


It is concerning that TU Delft hires so many consultants to solve its problems, writes Delta’s new student columnist Alex Nedelcu in his first piece. It hinders us from actually solving problems, he argues.

Alex Nedelcu, columnist Delta (Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

Examining the feasibility of natural ventilation. Developing a questionnaire about collaboration with the fossil industry. Evaluating the Inspectorate’s report on social safety. Planning how to answer said report. Figuring out how to avoid reputational damage to the Executive Board caused by said planning.

What do these seemingly unrelated issues have in common? To answer all of them, the Delft University of Technology has requested the services of consultants.

Beyond the absurdity of an engineering university (boasting the third best Architecture faculty in the world, no less) requiring the help of an engineering consultancy to study building ventilation, it does strike me as odd that TU Delft so often needs the help of consultants to solve our most pressing problems. Even odder is that, as proven by TU Delft management’s catastrophic initial reaction to sue the Inspectorate over the report, as well as subsequent missteps related to the plan of action for TU Delft`s response, the impact of such consultants is rarely positive. And yet the Executive Board keeps emphasising that further external expertise is needed after the completion of the plan of action.

In public administration, the services of consultants are typically requested when an organisation has limited expertise or needs to solve a problem within a short timeframe. However, some scholars in the field argue that cutting off public sector capabilities and subsequent outsourcing to consultancies leads to stunting and the loss of democratic accountability. Perverse incentives can be introduced by having consultants tell their clients what they want to hear, and outcomes are not guaranteed to be positive. Furthermore, by contracting out strategic capabilities to the private sector, public institutions such as TU Delft are infantilised – diminishing their ability to respond to crises. Not to mention the cost markup of consultants spending their valuable time making PowerPoints.

The public nature of TU Delft as an institution means that public money is being spent to address these issues. Introducing external parties into the mix can mean that traditional mechanisms for transparency and accountability, such as representative bodies, stop functioning. This is where the Supervisory Board could intervene to ensure the transparency of the entire process – however, two of its members are themselves managers of consulting firms. In any case, the eagerness with which addressing these issues is outsourced makes it seem like our university is unable to solve its problems on its own.

I believe that we do need to solve our problems ourselves, and fast. The crisis of social safety did not arise because of a lack of fresh perspectives. Those perspectives were and have been available for a long time. However, to obtain them, TU Delft’s administration needs to meaningfully engage with all stakeholders in the educational system – this also includes the students on whose behalf they so often take decisions – and stop relying on overpriced Mentimeters to put a band-aid over problems. Good decision-making requires accountability, transparency, and taking responsibility for unpleasant realities. Asking a consultant to rubber stamp one’s decisions shows none of them.

Alex Nedelcu is an international third-year bachelor student at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. He studies manufacturing-induced defects in composite structures as part of the Faculty’s Honours research programme. He is also a student representative in the Faculty’s Board of Studies, where he focuses on diversity and sustainability issues.

Columnist Alex Nedelcu

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