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Government investments signify major step towards university recovery

Implementation of coalition agreement: investments worth more than €700 million, primarily in research grants and sector plans


Today, Minister Dijkgraaf gave further details of the investments in higher education and research announced in the coalition agreement. The government will be paying €300 million a year towards the personal budgets of university researchers in the form of ‘starter and stimulation grants’. In addition, the government will be investing €200 million a year in all university disciplines that have submitted sector plans for this purpose. On top of that, Minister Dijkgraaf announced further spending in excess of €200 million a year on such projects as large-scale research infrastructure, student well-being and matching applicants with European research funds. The government had already unveiled investments of more than €6 billion in research, innovation and education paid out of the National Growth Fund. These investments will allow universities to get most of their fundamentals back in order. Pieter Duisenberg, president of Universities of the Netherlands: ‘The universities will use this money to reduce the heavy workloads of staff and give researchers the opportunity to conduct further research. We are pleased that we will now be able to work towards a Normal Academic Standard.’


In recent years, students, staff and administrators of Dutch universities have teamed up to stress the importance of significant investments in those universities. According to a PwC study, universities had a long-term deficit of €800 million on top of a one-off shortfall of €300 million. This was due to the rapid growth in the number of students coupled with a lack of funding for research. These investments in research and education will go a large way towards redressing the balance.


Personal research grants
The government will invest €100 million in personal research grants for academics before the year is out. This amount will rise to €300 million a year from 2023. The money will be paid out as ‘starter grants’ to newly appointed assistant professors and, from 2023, as ‘stimulation grants’ to other researchers who hold a permanent position. The exact allocation of the stimulation grants will be determined by the Executive Boards and the Boards of Directors of the University Medical Centres, as the case may be. These grants will offer academics greater peace of mind and flexibility when it comes to conducting research and improve the balance between direct and indirect funding.


Sector plans
In addition, the government will spend another €200 million a year on sector plans to rebuild the universities’ fundamentals. The amount to be invested this year is €60 million. The medical, natural sciences, engineering and technology, and social sciences and humanities sectors will each submit plans in which they elaborate how their sector can be boosted. These will allow universities to attract research talent and offer more permanent positions. This approach could also help achieve overarching goals, such as creating a future-proof range of educational opportunities and strengthening the strategic cooperation between universities. The minister will set up a committee to assess the sector plans.


Future study
Finally, the minister announced a study into the future of the higher education system. This will address the core question of how higher education will meet talent demands in the future. Key concepts in this regard are the balance between higher professional and research education, the management of Dutch and international student numbers and suitable remuneration. The universities are pleased with the opportunity to flesh out this future study in coordination with the universities of applied sciences and the minister. Unfortunately, their plea for imminent changes to the law, which would make it easier for them to manage international student numbers, fell on deaf ears, as the minister decided to make this dependent on the outcome of the future study. This will lead to several years’ delay.


Further investments
In addition to the aforementioned major investments, the policy letter set out a number of investments in the entire research ecosystem that the universities form part of. These pertain to European matching, large-scale infrastructure and knowledge security. The universities can and will make full use of these resources to fulfil their role in society. Earlier, the government had unveiled additional investments of more than €6 billion in the knowledge and innovation pillar of the National Growth Fund.


The exact consequences of the investments in the policy letter for the individual universities will be determined in an agreement with the minister to be signed next month.



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Liselotte de Langen

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