Plus for UU after ‘dampened’ effects advice of Van Rijn

More money for technology – at the expense of humanities? Photo: Dede90 / Flickr

Minister Van Engelshoven says she’s ‘thoroughly dampened’ the negative effects of the advice of the Van Rijn committee. Universities of applied sciences, she says, will not have to sacrifice any funds, and the universities will not have to pay more than an added 2 percent starting in 2022. The UU’s finances will in fact improve; it’s the only non-technological university where this is the case, although the question remains what the plans will mean for the non-technological sciences.

On Friday, the council of ministers accepted minister Van Engelshoven’s proposal to limit the growth incentive for universities and universities of applied sciences and to encourage them working together. The funding of higher education will be made less dependent on student numbers, as per the advice of the Van Rijn committee. A more fixed system of funding, the minister says, will ensure more security and less rivalry.

During the presentation of the Van Rijn advice, minister Van Engelshoven promised that she’d try to limit the negative effects of the redistribution of the budgets. Calculations showed that if the Van Rijn advice was followed to the letter, most universities and universities of applied sciences would have to sacrifice millions of euros on an annual basis.

For this reason, the government announced in its Spring Memo an additional investment of 41 million euros in technological study programmes, but that didn’t seem to be enough to soften the blow – especially in applied sciences, where only the universities of applied sciences that have a lot of ‘external switchers’ from other institutions would benefit financially.

No universities will sacrifice any money
The minister has since announced a new, relieving measure for universities. Instead of 250 million euros, only 103 and 105 million euros will go to universities with technological study programmes in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Nearly 200 million euros will be redistributed ‘neutrally’. The minister says that in the next two years, no university will have to sacrifice any money. This will change in 2020: from then on, the negative effects will “rise to a maximum of 2 percent of the total funding of a university”.

An overview provided by the ministry shows that this highest percentage will only apply to the universities in Rotterdam, Maastricht, and Tilburg. The four universities of technology, Utrecht University, and the Theological University in Apeldoorn will benefit from the plans. In 2023, a plus of 0.27 percent is noted for the UU (see download ed.): approximately 1.4 million euros.

Gone too far
Van Engelshoven says it’s high time something changes in the competition in scientific research, as it’s gone too far. “I support the conclusion of the Van Rijn Committee that states that the competition in the second money flow currently leads to a lack of efficiency. The success rate at the NWO is far too low, which means too much time and energy is spent on applying for (and assessing) research proposals instead of conducting the actual research.” The high pressure of matching, she says, also has to change.

 A redistribution of funds from research financer NWO (second money flow) to universities (research part first money flow) will fix the balance between competition and cooperation, the minister says. In late May, VSNU, NWO, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences proposed a joint plan for redistributing 60 million euros in 2020, which in time should mount to 100 million euros. Van Engelshoven will study this ‘well-considered decision’.

She’s announcing an independent follow-up study on the relation between costs and quality of higher education and research. The study will also look at whether the total budget is sufficient.

Bottlenecks moved
Universities are not enthusiastic. “The political choice of financing this investment in technology mainly by cutting back on funding on social sciences, humanities, and medical studies is short-changing the Netherlands as a country of knowledge,” the VSNU says. It claims the bottlenecks are simply moved instead of solved.

The VSNU, umbrella organisation for universities, is also not happy with the plans for a ‘soft landing’. “The Spring Memo contains not only an investment in technology, but also cutbacks. This means that all in all, the sector barely gets any additional funding.” The total package of cutbacks, the VSNU claims, comes down to around 100 million euros structurally. “This puts the universities in an impossible dilemma. The government’s decision will lead to a false opposition between the different disciplines.” The choices can potentially lead to hundreds of people being dismissed from their jobs, and will be at the expense of quality and accessibility, according to the universities.

In a University Council committee meeting last Tuesday, UU president Anton Pijpers said he’s not planning to cut back funding to humanities and social science programmes. He still thinks the minister should accommodate universities.

The National Student Union also says it doesn’t want the redistributions to be done at the expense of educational quality at the different institutions. Redistribution would be better left delayed until there’s more insight into the necessary funding.