Protest asking for more funds for higher education at Dom square last year. Photo: WOinActie

Joy and concern: first reactions to Dijkgraaf’s plans

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Universities are pleased with the additional funding for higher education institutions, while activists and universities of applied sciences and activists are satisfied but not quite: they still have reservations.

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The Dutch government has allocated hundreds of millions of euros for higher education institutions. Last Friday, the Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf revealed how he plans to distribute the money.

Universities
Umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) responded positively. The investments will help them get their foundations largely back in order, said the chair of the association, Pieter Duisenberg. “The funds will help universities reduce their employees’ high workload and give scientists the scope needed to conduct more research.”

In recent years, universities consistently mentioned a 1.1 billion euro shortage a year. Now, instead of complaining, they would like to offer a more nuanced perspective on their lobbying: the total amount consists of 800 million euros a year plus a one-off amount of 300 million. The total amount now made available by the government is not far off.

Universities of applied sciences
The universities of applied sciences are also pleased with the plans. In the next ten years, they will receive 100 million euros for their applied research, as well as funds to help them cope with the decline of students. Maurice Limmen, Chair of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, calls the decision “a necessary boost”.

The government aims to re-examine the higher education system, which Mr Limmen thinks is a good idea, as universities of applied sciences are not attracting enough students qualified to attend a research university and are, in his opinion, partly responsible for “maintaining the current status quo of unequal opportunity in our society.”

Dutch Student Union
The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) is glad with the investments. Chair Ama Boahene says they “were desperately needed”. “But the majority of the funds are intended for research, and there is no guarantee that education and students will also benefit.” More money for research should also result in better education, according to the union.

Boahene believes not enough money is being allocated to social security and student wellbeing. “No funds whatsoever are being made available for pre-Master's programmes or for tackling internship discrimination, even though these topics are incredibly important to students.”

Dutch National Students' Association
Terri van der Velden, Chair of ISO, the Dutch National Students' Association, also believes that “there is a dire need for more funding in higher education.” “But we have our doubts about the extent to which these funds will actually benefit the students.”

ISO also intends to “keep a close watch on student involvement.” When the basic student grant was cut, students were allowed more input, but will this change when the basic student grant is reinstated?

WOinActie
“Gratitude, joy and concern”, was Professor Ingrid Robeyn’s response. She is one of the driving forces behind protest group WOinActie. According to the Professor, science is “finally being administered some oxygen” and she posted the following claim to victory on Twitter: “I am convinced that WOinActie made all the difference.”

Yet she still has a number of concerns, which include the possible structural changes to higher education. She wonders who will be involved in the discussions on this topic. She is also critical of the working capital given to university lecturers. What makes this group more deserving than, say, lecturers without time allocated for research?

Casual
Local action group Casual Leiden, which advocates for the rights of the many university lecturers on temporary contracts, scoffs at the plans. “So lecturers without research time are once again left empty-handed? Won’t this only lead to even more inequality?” As the group says in its tweet, if all of those lecturers suddenly start looking for new jobs, the result will be a blow to research.

NWO
The response of the Dutch Research Council (NWO) was one of pure joy. NWO is involved in the distribution of funds in a variety of ways. “This is a great day for all researchers putting their shoulders to the wheel every single day to help create a bright future for the Netherlands”, says Chair Marcel Levi.

But the government aims to make 300 million euros of working capital available to researchers through the universities. In the past, Levi was critical of this idea, as he felt the funding should be distributed via NWO.

Now, his statement reads: “NWO will also keep a careful watch on the impact of the starting and incentive grants, and is ready and willing to offer views on how these funds could best benefit existing scientific programmes, so the intended goals of more certainty for researchers and a reduction in the number of applications are actually achieved.”

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