Because many assistant professors got permanent contracts

Universities allowed to cut starting grants by half

Geldkistje, foto Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

It is one of Dijkgraaf's biggest interventions in academia: universities get 300 million euros each year to invest in starting and stimulus grants. The aim is to give researchers more "peace and quiet".

The starting grants are aimed at new assistant professors with a permanent contract. Initially, they were supposed to get 300,000 euros, which they'd be free to spend as they pleased. Half of the 300,000 million budget was allocated for this purpose.

Permanent contracts
Assistant professors are now getting permanent contracts en masse: at the end of 2022, only 20 percent of them still had temporary contracts, against 30 percent one year prior. Consequently, there is not enough money to give 300,000 euros to all of them, which is why universities are now allowed to lower the grant to a minimum of 150,000 euros, Dijkgraaf announced.

Dijkgraaf's letter was presented to the House of Representatives shortly before Christmas. This week, the Parliament discussed the budget for 2024 and the grants represent a significant expense. 

The value of the stimulus grants (the other half of the 300,000 million euros) was already allowed to vary in amount. They are aimed at the rest of the academic staff. A commission advised to keep these two budgets separate so that both systems could come to fruition, but the minister decided to ignore the advice due to the financial shortage. Therefore, universities are allowed to use the money allocated for the stimulus grants to give assistant professors a starting grant.

Utrecht University will get 29.7 million euros worth of starting and stimulus grants every year for ten years. Almost 12 million euros are earmarked for the starting grants each year, but it was clear from the outset that this amount would not be sufficient for all the assistant professors holding permanent contracts. That's why the university has decided to also give the grants to teams.

Many researchers only get a hold of the grants once overhead costs have been deducted by the university. These costs can amount to 20 percent (this means that 60,000 euros would be taken from a 300,000 euro-grant.) UU also calculates a maximum of 20 percent worth of "indirect costs" for each grant. This amount is supposed to cover research-related costs, such as secretaries, staff members, management, and workspace. Part of it goes to the faculty and another part to university services such as the University Administrative Service.

The same advice committee considers the percentage too high. In their view, universities should at least explain why they deduct these costs. The minister agrees with that so it is no longer allowed to simply deduct 20 percent without explaining why.