No issues with managers’ expenses, says Inspectorate

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Cost consciousness is a high priority among managers in higher education, writes Esther Deursen (links in Dutch, ed), the acting Inspector General at the Education Inspectorate. ‘The current state of affairs is satisfactory.’

This has not always been the case. In the past, regular reports of sky-high expenses claims appeared in the media, most notably for foreign travel and a notoriously expensive office chair.

Self-imposed rules
This was all too much for the previous Minister of Education, who threatened to intervene unless the educational institutions were willing to take action themselves. In response, they came up with their own guidelines for expenses claims, which came into effect in January 2018. The Inspectorate’s latest checks were to find out whether the institutions have been observing their own rules.

And yes, it turns out they have, according to random checks at five universities and ten universities of applied sciences. In fact, the institutions are often a bit more prudent than the national guidelines stipulate. The managers rarely fly business class, for example, even though they are permitted to do so on longer flights.

The inspectors did come across the occasional confusion as to how travel expenses and training expenses should be processed: as management expenses or costs for the entire organisation that require no further justification? But this is only a minor concern.

Unjustified insinuations
The managers agree with the Inspectorate’s conclusions. Many of them told the inspectors that ‘all the publicity and media focus on expenses is rooted in mistrust, and incidents get blown up out of proportion.’ Doubt is cast on the integrity of managers in a way that is unjustified, they claim.

About ten years ago, there was a significant controversy surrounding Inholland University of Applied Sciences, and the Public Prosecution Service was even called in to examine their eye-watering expenses claims. The fact that the universities of applied sciences tried to keep their expenses claims under wraps at the time did nothing to help matters.

Among the universities, fingers were pointed at Utrecht University in particular. Politicians voiced their suspicions regarding exorbitant dinners and excessive travel expenses. Pieter Duisenberg, an MP at the time and now chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), submitted questions to the minister concerned: were trips by board members and meals in fancy restaurants honestly contributing to better education?

Putting things in perspective
Times have changed and the education minister has issued a written response expressing her satisfaction and announcing that she will not be moving to restrict the expenses of university managers: there will be no legislation on this matter. However, she does want the institutions to take up the inspectorate’s advice for minor improvements, with a view to making expenses more transparent.

The Education Inspectorate’s recently published report will enable the minister to downplay any future incidents. Its overall conclusion: nothing to worry about.