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Minister: universities can handle workload pressure themselves

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Minister van Engelshoven says it’s worrisome that 67 percent of university employees still experiences stress as a result of their high workloads. She’s working together with the universities to find solutions, including cutting back on temporary contracts.

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Today, the minister responded to questions posed to her by SP congressman Frank Futselaar about a new study conducted by union FNV Education and Research and union VAWO. The study showed that the measures taken by universities to lower the workload pressure have not had much success so far: 67 percent of personnel experiences high workloads. The scientists among them more so (76 percent) than the support staff (50 percent).

Not simple
Workload pressure, Van Engelshoven says, is the result of a number of factors, such as providing education for an increasing number of students, combined with the ambition of furthering one’s career as researcher. “This is not something that can be solved easily and quickly,” she writes.

She’s asked university association VSNU, research financer NWO, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to present a joint proposal sometime this year, that aims to improve the way education is appreciated and rewarded, and to increase the percentages of accepted grant proposals for research funds.

She’s supporting the recent initiative taken by universities, academic hospitals, and research financers, to upend the appreciation and assessment of scientists, for instance by increasing the value of one’s teaching achievements. She’s setting aside half a million euros to support these ambitions and to develop pilot programmes.

Temporary contracts
Another cause of high workloads is the high number of temporary contracts. Van Engelshoven says it’s “worrisome that employees experience more pressure to perform because they’re on temporary contracts”. She said it would help if universities were to budget better, and if they dared to grant more permanent contracts. This would be made easier if the ministry, in turn, ensures there are fewer fluctuations in the annual cash flows to universities.

The minister also refers to the Van Rijn committee which will advise her, among other things, on how to decrease the financial incentives that rush the student numbers. She’s also working on a proposal for a law that would limit education taught in another language if this is of added value, and if the teachers receive support in their proficiency of the language.

More money
The unions’ demand of an additional 1.15 billion euros for higher education as a result of backlogs in financing is rejected by the minister. “This administration is already investing a lot: 581 million euros for higher education and research in 2019.” She can’t see any room for more investments. The universities may be able to do something by themselves, she thinks. “The universities have achieved positive results in the past few years; more than 63 million in 2017. That positive result can be used for investing in education and research, and to cut back on the number of temporary contracts.”

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