Opportunities for student welfare, quality of education and research, reducing workloads and contributing to the future of the Netherlands
Dutch universities and university medical centres are delighted with the substantial investments to be made in education, research and impact. Pieter Duisenberg, president of Universiteiten van Nederland: ‘The fact that the new government has heeded our call for substantial investments is good news for both students and staff. This agreement appears to provide opportunities for universities and university medical centres to get the fundamentals back in order, thereby contributing to solutions to the major challenges facing society: climate change, the teacher shortage and digitisation.’ Margriet Schneider, chair of the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU): ‘This will enable us to invest more in such things as fundamental medical scientific research, translational research and long-term programmes, such as in the field of prevention. Shoring up our education and research will generate new insights that will help benefit the health of all citizens in the Netherlands. These investments will also reinforce the Netherlands’ position as a knowledge economy.’
The structural, long-term investments presented by the new government today will go towards creating a greater degree of predictability in terms of funding, a better proportion of direct to indirect government funding, reduced workloads and scope for talent. This will take the shape of a research fund, investments in postgraduate programmes/research and an increase in the knowledge component of the Growth Fund (see below).
The universities and university medical centres look forward to liaising with the government on the details of the coalition agreement in due course. The new government’s approach will help to address the problems in our sector and acknowledges the significant role that universities play in society. Our aim in these talks will be to reflect on the identified problems, such as the imbalance between education and research and the huge rise in the student population. Duisenberg: ‘A new long-term vision on talent is needed if we are to future-proof the system. After all, there is considerable demand from society for talented graduates and degree programmes in the Netherlands, in Europe and throughout the rest of the world. Nonetheless, the current growth rate of the student population is placing excessive strain on the quality of education and on the workloads of our staff. Addressing this will require us to break the taboo on discussing intake limits. We would be happy to exchange views about this with our students and staff, the universities of applied sciences and the new Minister of Education, Culture and Science.’
When it comes to allocating funding, the universities have the following measures in mind:
- Getting the fundamentals back in order must start with addressing the previously identified problems by reducing workloads, stressing the importance of independent research and alleviating the pressure associated with grant applications.
- Along with the other participants in the Knowledge Coalition, we will be fleshing out the investment agenda to meet the Lisbon targets. This will require investments in academia and innovation to the tune of 3% of GDP.
- Building on the agreements enshrined in the collective labour agreement, the universities will be converting more temporary contracts to permanent ones in one way or another. To this end, they will continue on the current course of taking more budgetary risks. In the short term, universities will use tools to manage intake if need be, in anticipation of the toolkit announced by the government.
- We will press ahead with the nationwide Recognition & Rewards programme for academia.
The government is set to make the following investments in universities:
- €5 billion over 10 years for a research fund: a one-off sum of €5 billion is being earmarked for a fund for research and academia that has yet to be set up, the aims being to secure outstanding investment in research and to continue bolstering the research infrastructure. These measures are also geared towards enhancing the quality of higher education and scholarship, reducing workloads and increasing the scope for independent research.
- €700 million for postgraduate programmes/research, among other things to reduce workloads, invest in independent research and development, improve student welfare, foster vocational training and pre-Master’s programmes relevant to the labour market, strike a better balance between direct and indirect government funding, and guarantee a comprehensive, appropriate range of small-scale degree programmes.
- €6.7 billion until 2028 into the Growth Fund to promote research and innovation: the budget for the knowledge development and research, development and innovation pillars is being increased by a one-off sum of €6.7 billion spread over the years to 2028.
Besides these investments, the universities are delighted with the following passages in the agreement:
- We will make funding more predictable by doing away with the perverse incentive to increase intake, revising and increasing flat-rate basic grants and striking a better balance between direct and indirect government funding.
- We will strive to enhance the quality of teacher training, focusing on effective teaching methods, specialisation in younger or older children, digital skills and adequate education. We will increase academic intake.
- In addition, we will encourage lifelong learning via study entitlements.
- We aim to become a knowledge economy that sees us invest in research and development in line with the Lisbon targets. We will reinforce the foundations of our knowledge institutions and innovative ecosystems, such as the aerospace cluster at ESTEC, and encourage them to seek partnerships at the regional and international levels. We will support innovative start-ups and scale-ups and tailor our mission-driven innovation policy to the three major transitions: climate and energy, digitisation and key technologies, and the circular economy.
- We want everyone to be able to study, irrespective of parental income. To this end, we will make available a basic grant for all students and a means-tested supplementary grant from the 2023–2024 academic year onwards. We will give due consideration to feasibility and enforceability. The student public transport pass, the current lending conditions and investments in the student loan system will remain unchanged.
- All this will put the Netherlands in the vanguard for the benefit of and within a strong, effective European Union.