Following critical report

A string of temporary contracts? 'Embarassing,' says Minister of Education

Photo: DUB / Anthony Donner

Sleepless nights, panic attacks and physical complaints… A university action group, Casual Academy, interviewed 28 researchers and teachers working at six Dutch universities about the effects of temporary contracts and poor work relations with their employers. The report came out in November.

Political parties GroenLinks and SP asked the Minister of Education what he thinks about the stories of people working on temporary contracts for a long time. Can he amend the law to help these researchers?

Dijkgraaf’s answers, published today, demonstrate that he does not plan to do so. He argues that the universities and research institutions are the employers here; the minister is only responsible for the system. The only thing he can do as a minister is introducing "space and stability" in the system.

In his answer, Dijkgraaf refers to the 200 million euros earmarked for national "sector plans", which are supposed to enable universities to increase the number of permanent positions. He has also allocated 300 million euros for start-up and incentive grants, which are intended for researchers with a permanent contract. Dijkgraaf believes this can act as an impulse too.

“I’m opposed to the harmful consequences of temporary contracts”, writes Dijkgraaf. “I think it’s important that researchers work in a healthy and socially safe culture in which they get every opportunity to develop themselves.”

He also acknowledges that temporary contracts can contribute to work pressure and affect the quality of teaching when a programme relies too much on teachers on temporary contracts. That is one of the reasons, the minister writes, why personnel policy is being evaluated by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (Dutch acronym: NVAO), a higher education watchdog.

More temporary contracts
Proportionally, the share of temporary appointments is growing at Dutch universities, which has little effect on full professors and associate professors. 30 percent of assistant professors are now also on a temporary contract; in 2005 the figure was less than 20 percent. But it is mainly "other" lecturers and researchers who are increasingly employed on a temporary basis.

“The effect of the recent changes to collective labour agreements and of campaigns in academic teaching that target more permanent contracts is not yet visible in the figures”, says Dijkgraaf.