Response to 28 questions of De Tijd & FTM 

The educational focus of Nova Academia

Responses to De Tijd & FTM’s 30 questions

A hit piece by Follow The Money is now out: here is an initial analysis of it. It mainly indicates that the mental development level of journalists lags behind what you would hope for.

The news magazine De Tijd and Follow-the-Money sent a list of 28 questions to Nova Academia to find out more about our mission, mindsets, staff, and especially how we think about ‘bureaucracy’. At the end of this piece, we provide direct answers to these questions. First, we explain in more detail what we stand for and how we think about bureaucracy and mental development.

The origins of Nova Academia

The origin of Nova Academia is concern about our young people. In this era of major/rapid social change, complexity, social media, threat of war, diseases and so on, it is harder than ever for our youth to grow up in a mentally healthy way. Mental problems among university students, and not only there, have increased head over heels in recent years. See, for example,

As academics with extensive international experience in universities, we see a role for us to create an academic community where adolescents can mature in a rich, intellectually stimulating environment and prepare themselves for their future roles.

As academics, we enjoy teaching young minds to handle data, facts and reasoning well, thus teaching them to think with precision and nuance. On the one hand, they have to learn to deal with the academic knowledge they have accumulated and, on the other, they have to learn a lot from their own experiences. That combination leads to independently thinking individuals who contribute positively to society in a variety of roles.

This is not the goal that universities set for themselves and they are therefore partly failing our children. Hence, we see a social role for Nova Academia and have assumed our responsibility.


As academics, we do our utmost to draw on the best knowledge provided by human cultures. So when you ask us questions about bureaucracy, you get answers that are academically anchored and usually integrate multiple perspectives: you get context. Almost all our answers refer to this context. It is at the heart of our educational philosophy.

     “Bureaucracy as a sign of the improvability of organisations”

A surprising number of your questions are directly or indirectly about bureaucracy. We have written and thought a lot about this. Dr Tjeerd Andringa wrote a (peer-reviewed) publication entitled “The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organisation” (Andringa, 2015). That was about protecting and improving the quality of (public and private) organisations, something close to our hearts.

Wellbeing economist Paul Frijters also made his career out of helping bureaucracy. His 2021 book on how to promote the wellbeing of populations was largely written for ministries of finance in Britain and New Zealand, which then adopted his methods. Nova Academia’s other academics are similarly positioned, many of them working innovatively for governments for years. So we are constructively on the side of good governance: we look at what goes well, what could be better, and how things sometimes go completely wrong.

The 2015 publication on the psychology of bureaucracy is about a bad form of bureaucracy that is very authoritarian. That form is a social developmental disorder that is not easily undone. There is a reason why dictatorships are depicted as bureaucracies in books and films. Princeton researcher Karen Stenner succinctly sums up the core of this developmental disorder: “authoritarians are not endeavouring to avoid complex thinking as much as a complex world” (Stenner, 2009, p 193; Andringa, 2015, p 238). That developmental disorder is characterised by an inability to cope with a complex world. In other words, in the disorder, bureaucrats (and authoritarians) degenerate into individuals with a small comfort zone who easily become anxious, defensive and intolerant when confronted with things outside their comfort zone. Individuals with a larger comfort zone don’t even see the problem those bureaucrats care about.

That bad form of bureaucracy is very coercive and hierarchical. A hierarchical bureaucracy organises public space in such a way that people with a limited comfort zone are disconnected from the consequences of their actions through rules and procedures. This keeps their world small, preventing them from facing both their limited comfort zone and the consequences of their actions (and inactions). It allows them to function in an environment that, without bureaucracy, would be well beyond their professional capabilities. At the same time, a hierarchical bureaucracy limits the possibilities of those employees who are capable.

            “the bureaucratic form of organisation stulties the functioning of highly autonomous and motivated employees, while it actually provides the less autonomous employees guidance and effectiveness in roles in which they would otherwise not be able to function.”

            Andringa, 2015, page 225

Nova Academia aims to train capable autonomous thinkers – with a broad comfort zone – who make effective contributions to public and private spaces. We are horrified by the opposite: that we adapt public space to the level of individuals with a narrow comfort zone and thus leaving room only for coercive conformity. In it, everyone, including more autonomous people with a wide comfort zone, is bureaucratically controlled. So Nova Academia stands for improving the quality of public and private space, which is why mental development is central to our education. That way, you also get better, less hierarchical bureaucracy.

Mental development levels and dealing with complexity

In education science, mental development levels are known as Learning&Teaching Conceptions (LTC) See Hamer and van Rossum (2017): Six Languages in Education – Looking for Postformal Thinking.

LTC levels 3 and (to a lesser extent) 4 of the total 6 defined LTC levels are the levels at which our current mainstream, government-driven education operates. This is explained in more detail in “Canceling: Het onderwijsniveau dat leidde tot ontslag”. (Cancelling: The educational level that led to dismissal).

LTC 3 – Following procedures

The hallmark of LTC 3 is the strict adherence to procedures and ‘protocols’ (even when not required) and the active exclusion of all information (no matter how relevant and valuable) when it does not fit into the modus operandi and/or is not supported by one’s “in-group”. A striking feature of LTC 3 functioning, therefore, is that issues that do not fit into the “in-group” worldview are ignored or ridiculed.

The “in-group” is always right and morally superior. “Out-groups” are always wrong and morally questionable or even reprehensible.  LTC 3 thinkers conclude this because they are unable to see any value in the opinions of dissenters. They are also unable to tell the difference between an unsupported opinion and a solidly supported position. A text like this is typically ignored at the LTC 3 level.

Dutch researchers Hamer & van Rossum describe LTC 3 in terms that fit one-to-one with a hierarchical bureaucracy (and Stenner’s conclusion that they try to avoid a complex world):

    “LTC-3 speakers practice what one may call a procrustean view of complexity. Problems of relative simplicity are stretched out to t the chosen solution strategy, resulting in reduced uncertainty about what to do and the implementation of unnecessary or irrelevant procedures just to “cover the bases” and “tick all the boxes.” When confronted with unfamiliar and ill-structured problems, LTC-3 speakers may overlook the deeper complexity and inherent uncertainty, simplifying them by ignoring the too complex aspects of the problem and solving what is left using a familiar solution strategy, thereby potentially setting the stage for what is often then referred to as “unanticipated side effects.” In this sense LTC-3 speakers are as intolerant as LTC-1 and LTC-2 speakers of peers or teachers making an issue unnecessarily complex by asking probing questions and introducing uncertainty and ambiguity.”

    (Hamer and Rossum, 2017, p. 386

Many university undergraduate programmes are largely limited to LTC 3 level. In the European qualifications framework, the bachelor corresponds to EQF Level 6 (see Annex II of the link). You can make a case that current bachelors train for a hierarchical bureaucracy. For many parents, this is not a happy prospect.

LTC 4 – Learning to think

At LTC 4 level, one has learned to deal with procedures and working methods independently and flexibly and make them suitable for specialised applications based on factual material supported by in-group “experts”. This typically fits the Master level (EQF, level 7). The characteristic of this level is that they understand and can reason about specialist knowledge of the in-group with precision and nuance, but understand knowledge and insights of “out-groups” in a distorted and weakened form. An explanation like this text is translated as on LCT 4 as a frontman, after which the frontman, and not the original argument, is attacked.

Many higher educated people get stuck in their development at LTC 3: the group that quickly struggles with an overly complex world and likes its work to be organised bureaucratically (protocol-wise). A smaller group becomes a true domain expert (LTC 4). However, the natural development of individuals does not stop here. Sooner or later, many develop traits of LTC 5 and 6.

LTC – 5 Broadening horizons (comfort zone)

Many intelligent, curious, open and capable young people are already at LTC 5. They are confident enough in their own ability to think that they want to test the quality of their own knowledge in an open and honest comparison with the knowledge of others. The hallmark of LTC 5 is approaching the knowledge and insights of “out-groups” for the first time with precision and respect and typically arriving at a self-formulated synthesis that, depending on the evidence, may differ from the consensus. This is the level of thinking referred to in, for example, the Dutch Code of Conduct on Scientific Integrity.

Honesty includes not making unsubstantiated claims, reporting correctly on the research process, not inventing or falsifying data or sources, taking alternative views and counterarguments seriously, being open about margins of uncertainty, and not presenting results more favourably or unfavourably than they are (Dutch Code of Conduct for Scientific Integrity 2018, page 13).

LTC 5, according to the principle of academic honesty, takes alternative views and counterarguments seriously and generally learns from them. Of course, this does not imply that one has to be convinced. That depends on the quality of the pro and counter arguments, which one can only properly assess at the LTC 5 level.

LTC 5 thinkers create the opposite of a straw man: they engage in “steelmanning” the representation of the other person’s position as firmly and respectfully as possible. So an explanation like this text is taken seriously by LTC 5 thinkers, respectfully represented, and improved rather than demolished, ridiculed, or ignored.

One of our founders, Tjeerd Andringa, taught LTC 5 students in Groningen. His lectures were rated very highly (teacher evaluation 9.4 average over 5 years). There is a clear need for education at LTC 5 level.

Difference in code of conduct for journalism and science

Note that the code of conduct of Dutch journalists is only about factual correctness. Dealing respectfully with alternative views and counter-arguments is a considerably higher requirement that we academics are expected to meet. You can be a journalist at LTC 3 or 4 level, but you cannot be a good academic if you cannot deal respectfully with alternative views and counterarguments. LTC 5 is a requirement. And so, we focus Nova Academia’s teaching and research on this.

LTC 6 Developing wisdom

LTC 6 is the level where the many viewpoints of LTC 5 are combined with extensive personal experiences in complex real-world situations leading to the discovery of deeper connections between all kinds of aspects of life. This is a level where self-actualisation and the development of wisdom are central. Some students are already surprisingly advanced in this development. Nova Academia seeks to become a place where these students too can develop strongly.

Educational vision of Nova Academia

This vision is also presented on our website. The figure shows what contributions LTC 4, 5 & 6 give to our education. We are looking for students who have already passed LTC 3 level and are ready for the next levels.

Figure 1 Educational focus of Nova Academia.

Attitudes towards information

The most important and salient differences between the LTC levels are attitudes towards information that are subtly different (in the case of information that fits into the worldview) or totally different in the case of information that conflicts with the worldview. The following table gives an overview of this.

LTC 3LTC 4LTC 5 & 6
Information that suits the in-group consensus (the shared world view) and fits the comfort zone. Accepted without reflection and not (or superficially) understood.
Accepted with some precision. Usually understood with some depth.

(Knowledge reconstruction)
Embedded with precision and nuance into an ecology of multiple view points.

(Self-reconstructed knowledge)
Information at odds with the in-group consensus (the shared world view) and outside of the comfort zone.Directly dismissed without reflection, labelled as nonsense or ridiculed. Arguments in favour are ignored.Arguments are twisted into the own world view, with the resulting straw-man attacked and partially dismissed as nonsense. Limited engagement or understanding of the arguments.Judged with precision and nuance, with useful elements added to the existing world view. Arguments are seriously examined for their ability to improve overal understanding.
Reaction towards the messenger of information outside of the comfort zone.
Recognised directly as divergent and corrected or else dismissed from the in-group, without taking the individual or the arguments seriously (cancelling). The messenger is deemed an outsider who can be harmed.The messenger is viewed as misled. Whilst any in-group competence is recognised, the rejection of the actual information is paramount. Nuances are not recognised and the messenger is seen as irritating.The messenger, particularly when communicating nuanced and precise, is seen as a valuable source. Even if disagreed with, a prevalent emotion towards the messenger is gratitude.
Table 1: Summary of differences in attitudes towards information.

Since this is also relevant to a profession like journalism, we are very willing to share academic knowledge in this area.


Andringa, T. C. (2015). The Psychological Drivers of Bureaucracy: Protecting the Societal Goals of an Organisation. In _Policy practice and digital science: Integrating complex systems, social simulation and public administration in policy research_ (Cham; First, pp. 221-260). Policy Practice and Digital Science. (

Frijters, P., & Krekel, C. (2021). A handbook for wellbeing policy-making: History, theory, measurement, implementation, and examples (p. 454). Oxford University Press.

Hamer, R., & Rossum, E. J. van (2017). Six Languages in Education-Looking for Postformal Thinking. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 22(2), 377-393.

Stenner, K. (2009). “Conservatism,” Context-Dependence, and Cognitive Incapacity. Psychological Inquiry, 20(2-3), 189-195.

Reply to the questions of De Tijd and FTM

Dear Mr Frijters and Mrs Turkstra,

We are journalists from De Tijd (Belgium) and Follow The Money (Netherlands) and we are writing an article about Nova Academia. We would like to ask you some questions about this initiative. We would like to receive the answers to the questions below by Thursday at the latest.

1.            Why did you set up this ‘university’ and when did the idea originate?

Existing universities, because of the Learning Outcomes system, focus mainly on uncritical factual knowledge and protocols (something called LTC 3 and 4 in the literature). There are many students who can handle the higher levels: being able to deal with uncertainty (LTC 5) and continuously learning from many perspectives and experiences, including those of ‘opponents’ (LTC 6). So there is room for an academy, such as Nova Academia, that focuses on additional development.

2. You write on your website that the doors of Academia will open on September 2, is that still the intention?


3.            Why did you choose Belgium/Wallonia/Theux for this university?

It is a beautiful and peaceful area with strong communities. Ideal for optimal education that aims to reduce the craziness of social media and the internet.

4.            Will Nova Academia actually register as a university with the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles so that it can award recognised diplomas? Do you consider government accreditation as an official educational institution desirable?

We would love to be accredited by the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (or the Dutch variant). However, we currently see no possibility of combining high levels of thinking with the European Qualifications Framework overseen by accreditation bodies. If this changes or if there is more room for top education within the European Qualifications Framework in other ways, we will applaud this.

5.            Has a legal entity been set up to run Nova Academia? In Belgium or elsewhere?

In Belgium.

6.            We learned that you personally bought the castle from its previous owners. Did you pay the asking price of €1.199 million for it?


7. How did you finance the purchase of the castle? Who are your co-funders?

Privately, no co-funders.

8.            Can you also clarify in general terms the funding of Nova Academia?

That will come in due course through the company’s required financial reporting.

9.            What is the estimated study cost per participant? You write on your website that the level of costs is yet to be determined, is there more clarity on this by now?

Not yet, as it depends on yet unknown factors, such as total costs, sponsor contributions, etc.

10. You also write on the website that the level of costs depends on grants provided by the business community and wider community; is there more clarity on this by now?

See question 9, sponsors have signed up.

11.         What qualities must teachers have to teach at Nova Academia?

Being good at their subject, still learning, and paying sincere attention to students’ mental development.

12. How would you personally describe Nova Academia’s philosophy?

It is described in detail on our website and is also explained in the context above. We are building an academic oasis.

Last weekend, we also sent someone incognito to your open day to get an honest picture of your discourse. Some questions about that:

It strikes us that the informant missed the nuance. Too bad.

13.      People working in health care were described as “grabbers” during a trial lesson. On what observations and arguments does this claim rest?

The reference was not to all individuals working in healthcare, but organisations such as, for example, large pharmaceutical companies.

When can there be grabs? When there are too few thinkers who can handle uncertainty and criticism in an organisation. Then you lack self-criticism within your own organisation and there is plenty of room for individuals who abuse the trust placed in them to get richer from it. A short description of this is “grabbers”. Non-critical thinkers make grabbing easier: they cannot look critically at the worse aspects of the systems one is part of.

14.                      “Universities are run by bureaucrats, academics have become powerless,” attendees were told. What brings you to that insight?

The process of bureaucratisation has been going on for over 100 years and extensively described in the literature. Bureaucratisation began in the United States almost exactly 100 years ago through the battle between education philosopher Dewey who, like us, advocated student development, and David Snedden who campaigned for more bureaucratic control over teachers and scientists. Snedden won that battle in the period 1914-1925 and after that, bureaucracy in science slowly but steadily got worse.

Labaree (2011) describes the bureaucrat Snedden as follows:

“He was a self-styled scientists who never did anything that remotely resembled scientific study, an educational sociologist who drew on the clichés of the field – social Darwinism and social control – without ever making an original contribution. In his written work he never used data, and he never cited sources, which made sense, since he rarely drew on sources anyway. His books and journal articles took the form of proclamations, scientific pronouncements without the science; they all read like speeches, and that was likely the source of them.”

The reason he was successful is described by Labaree as follows:

“Put another way, a useful idiot, who says things that resonate with the emerging ideas of his era and helps clear the ideological way for the rhetorical reframing of a major institution, can have vastly more influence than a great thinker, who makes a nuanced and prescient argument that is out of tune with his times and too complex to fit on a battle standard.”

In other words, because Snedden threw pitch indiscriminately and ignored all nuance, he was able to win from a deep thinker like Dewey in the public debate. Although Dewey is still famous for his insights into the development of thought, the actions of the forgotten Snedden led to a slow process of a lot of extra and unnecessary bureaucracy in science.

With Snedden’s victory, education bureaucrats gained access to how lessons were taught and what subjects were covered. After World War II, this process accelerated, manifesting at the turn of the millennium in the adoption of The European Qualifications Framework, which forced all accredited schools to offer accreditable education within narrow boundaries. The highest levels of thinking (LTC 5 and 6), due to the central focus on learning outcomes and not the developing individual, were thereby made almost impossible within accredited institutions. The RUG (State University of Groningen) has clearly stated that top education is not tolerated as it cannot be interpreted as standardised. Hence, there is room for an institute like Nova Academia.

Labaree, D. (2011). How Dewey lost: The victory of David Snedden and social efficiency in the reform of American education (T. S. Daniel Tröhler Fritz Ostervalder, Ed.; Rotterdam). Pragmatism and modernities.,5

15.                      Nova Academia’s programme reveals a distrust of government institutions. You write on your website that the founders found each other ‘in the fight against government supremacy’. Where does your dislike of ‘the government’ come from?

Again, your informant missed the nuance. Let’s be clear: The Netherlands and Belgium are highly developed countries with a government that functions well in many facets. There is no dislike of government with us. We want to improve it.

However, an increasingly hierarchical bureaucratic government is increasingly characterised by the limitations of lack of self-criticism. The past four years featured many violations of basic human rights, even down to curfews justified by unscientific improvisations (such as the 1.5-metre rule) to deal with a virus. As mentioned in the introduction, we stand for a higher level of public governance, for which we are keen to train young people.

 16.                         During the taster day, hospitals and universities were described as bureaucratic structures in which stakeholders get rich under the pretext of serving the patient, student or scholar. Why do you consider it advisable to teach future students that these institutions are also to be distrusted?

Again, the informant lacks nuance.

The answer is almost identical to the answer to question 10. Poorly educated people have difficulty in critically scrutinising their own organisations (in-group). Good thinkers can. In doing so, they can help uncover inefficiencies, abuses and even corruption. The tax allowance affair (in Dutch: toeslagenaffaire) indicated that in an otherwise well-run country like the Netherlands, major abuses can persist for years. Good thinkers play a central role in processes of self-cleansing. We think it is important that our students can play that kind of role in society. Everyone benefits from that.

17.                      It was also suggested on Saturday to share insights on tax avoidance, insights that would help multinationals turn themselves into financial winners. What do you want to teach students by explaining to them how to avoid taxes?

Again, you are missing nuance here. Everyone wants taxes to be fair and collected equally for everyone. When there is clear evidence that multinationals are evading this, it is good to know through which bureaucratic means they can do so. Our students will soon be expected to be able to help bureaucrats arrive at rules that are fair so that taxes can be collected equally by everyone. Paul Frijters also recently wrote an article on this topic.

 Other questions

18.                      Where does Nova Academia position itself on the political spectrum?

We have no political position. Embracing uncertainty does not go hand in hand with an ideology.

Good thinkers are able to look at social issues from various angles and assess their validity. This makes it important for us to have access to a wide range of ideas. What works we can apply. In short, every political belief offers a unique perspective and is enriching.

19.                      What is your relationship with the Dutch political party Forum for Democracy?

There is no institutional relationship: we are willing to present Nova Academia at all organisations. We assume that any group that can articulate itself well can enrich us with insights.

 20.                      We noted that you were planning a lecture at Forum for Democracy last Friday. Why did last Friday’s meeting at Forum for Democracy not go ahead?

The lecture was cancelled by the FVD. By the way, we give lectures for all kinds of forums.

21.                      Are you aware that Thiery Baudet was convicted for making ‘unnecessarily hurtful and unlawful remarks against Holocaust survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims’? And that the court found it plausible that he contributes to a climate that fuels expressions of anti-Semitism? See

We know that, we just don’t see the connection with Nova Academia.

 22.                      Are you aware that FvD and Baudet have been warned by the NCTV (National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security) to stop spreading anti-semitic conspiracy theories? See:

We know that, we just don’t see the connection with Nova Academia.

23.                      Several of your contributors are associated with the magazines “Gezond Verstand” (Common Sense) and “De Andere krant” (The Other Newspaper). These magazines are described by the NCTV as platforms on which disinformation and conspiracy theories are disseminated. What do you think of this?

We are in favour of a free press.

Who would want to ban newspapers just because they disagree with them? Poorly educated people who have not learned to think critically: they see anything that does not fit the in-group consensus as disinformation.

Classifications like disinformation and conspiracy theories really shouldn’t be left to people who don’t think critically because they perceive anything that doesn’t fit their in-group worldview as annoying. A country like the Netherlands should have higher standards for truth-telling.

24.                      The NCTV argues that Covid 19 has created ‘a window of opportunity to further propagate the distrust that exists among part of the population’. What do you think of that?

We agree: for example, the unsubstantiated and damaging covid measures have caused a lot of distrust among the population due to the numerous inconsistencies and high degree of secrecy within government policy. As long as the government does not fully disclose these, trust will erode and mistrust will continue to grow. Nova Academia aims to deliver precisely the better thinkers who can help the government regain and maintain trust. 

25.                      Café Weltschmerz on which you yourself can be seen is cited by the NCTV as the platform for conspiracy theories. What do you think about that?

Café Weltschmerz is a source of often underexposed viewpoints and therefore precisely very useful for forming well-founded opinions.

We are willing to present Nova Academia on all platforms (including yours). Moreover, we have no objection to substantiated theories and want to encourage our students to examine many perspectives for their validity.

26.                      Why are you cooperating with Willem Engel, who was convicted of incitement (Netherlands) and defamation (Belgium)? See and

Critical thinkers exclude bad arguments, not people. Willem Engel is a human rights activist interested in truth-telling and new forms of education.

27.                      Why are you working with Tjeerd Andringa, who was sacked by the University of Groningen after he was initially suspended for spreading conspiracy theories? See

You should not believe everything the newspapers say. Andringa was never suspended, nor was Andringa ever accused with any precision of spreading conspiracy theories. The RUG wanted to get rid of him because he taught at a high level which could not be captured in simple bureaucratic rules ( that is: the bureaucracy wanted him to say in advance what someone would learn. At a high level, learning is an individual journey of discovery, not a standardised walk around the church). He did so because that 1) matched the level of his students and was therefore very highly rated and 2) was a direct implementation of how the course presented itself on the internet.

 Even in court, the RUG could not cite an example of a conspiracy theory spread by Andringa. After explaining the thinking levels and formulating his wish to teach at a high level (in accordance with the educational vision on the programme website), his dean said, “Tjeerd, what you want we just don’t do that”. Andringa then opted during the hearing to teach at a high level elsewhere. The RUG and Andringa broke up based on differences in views on university didactics. Relations between them have always remained good and still are. 

Andringa has made a video about this that explains the differences in LTC levels. This is worth reading: Canceling: Het onderwijsniveau dat leidde tot ontslag“. (Cancelling: The level of education that led to dismissal).

28.                      What is your relationship with Dolf van Wijk, who calls himself co-founder of Nova Academia on Linkedin?

Dolf van Wijk is highly supportive of the initiative and has been a volunteer from the beginning.

 29.                      Which other future plans do you have with Nova Academia?

Many, but first we want to ensure a good start. We do not seek conflicts with anyone. On the contrary, we strive for harmony.

30.                      Do you wish to add any matters of your own in response?

We would like to encourage your readers to go to our website to see for themselves what kind of education we offer.


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