UU teaching staff has been protesting against high work pressure for years. The red square attached to their clothes symbolises that. Photo: DUB

UU looking to spend 50 million euros to relieve work pressure

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Next year, Utrecht University intends to give all faculties and University College Utrecht extra money to relieve the work pressure and employ more permanent staff. The idea is to spend 50 million euros over six years. The proposal still has to be approved this month by the Supervisory Board and the University Council.

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The Executive Board sees this boost as an ‘advance’ on the additional 1.1 billion euros the higher education sector is expecting to get from the new Dutch cabinet to make up for several years of underfunding, says chair Anton Pijpers. “We can make this happen already because we had unexpected windfalls this year. However, we know that the boost is not enough to cover everything. That's why adequate funding from the government is necessary. We are getting ready for that now.”

By spending the university's own millions, the Executive Board is looking to relieve the work pressure and increase the staff's wellbeing by increasing the amount of teachers. The basic idea is to reduce the number of temporary contracts and increase the number of permanent contracts, but the money is also going to serve to enable PhD students to get an extra year and employ more student-assistants and other educational supporting staff. Most of the money is going to the faculties of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law, Economics, and Management & Organisation. “They are the ones that need it the most”, according to Pijpers.

The plan (pdf only available to readers with a Solis ID) is possible because, this year, the university once again had financial windfalls and money that wasn’t spent. These include an incidental tax return of 18 million euros and 17 million euros that weren’t spent because of Covid and 11 million euros saved by postponing real estate investments

More permanent contracts
Pijpers explains that, in consultation with the faculties, the Executive Board devised a ‘basket of options’ on which the 50 million euros could be spent. That's why UU will be prioritising an increase in the number of teachers by means of reducing the number of temporary contracts and increasing the number of permanent contracts. Hiring temporary teachers means extra work pressure for colleagues who have to show them the ropes and guide them, not to mention it is a source of stress for the temporary staff, who are often concerned about their uncertain future.

The share of temporary contracts has been a point of discussion for years. The latest collective labour agreement (CAO) determines that universities can use temporary contracts to hire at most 22 per cent of its professors, university headteachers, university teachers, and teachers. UU is quite close to that mark: by the end of the third quarter, 23.1 per cent of UU's staff held a temporary contract. Since September, many new teachers have been appointed to deal with the significant increase in the number of students. Like most new colleagues, they start with a one-year contract before receiving a permanent appointment. The current percentage can therefore represent a slightly distorted image of UU's temporary to permanent contract ratio.

Basket of options
The basket of options named by Pijpers contains suggestions made by the faculties, which would like to tackle work pressure by increasing the amount of time some teachers dedicate to research. A part of their educational activities must then be given by new colleagues, and they too should be given permanent contracts as university teachers as soon as possible. That means they should have obtained a PhD. “Our policy is and remains that a teacher in permanent employment also conducts research. That’s what distinguishes us from a University of Applied Sciences”, explains Pijpers.

Another option in the basket is giving out longer contracts to PhD candidates interested in teaching alongside their research. With an appointment of 5 years, they could also gain educational experience and obtain certificates for the basic qualification for education (BKO in the Dutch acronym) to increase their job possibilities after their doctorate. Another possibility is to hire extra student assistants or other educational supporting staff.

But faculties can also think outside the box. For instance, they suggested to give some researchers a sabbatical or enabling scientific staff to engage in education innovation. The faculties can present additional plans in consultation with the Executive Board. 

Six-year plan
Those 50 million euros are going to be distributed to the faculties over a period of six years. Five million are going to be given out in 2022, and 10 million euros in 2023 through 2026. In 2027, UU is planning on distributing 5 million euros. Less money was allocated to the first year as the first step is finding new staff. “Often, at least half a year passes between the moment the vacancy is published and the moment someone is hired,” says Pijpers. But the initial period may go by faster than expected because the Executive Board aims to look at current teachers with a temporary contract first.

Because the board wants to expand the number of university teachers with a permanent contract and thereby decrease the number of temporary contracts, expenses with personnel will be carried on until 2027. The Executive Board has provided a guarantee until 2029 in case faculties run into financial difficulties. “By employing more people with this temporary boost, we are taking a certain risk,” admits Pijpers. “But it is responsible, because we anticipate a lot of turnover in the next few years. But of course we shouldn't be forced to work with fewer people again after this, when we have agreed that the workload is not realistic. The problem of work pressure is structural and can’t be solved with temporary resources.” Pijpers is referring to the 1.1 billion euros “required to put the foundations of the higher education sector back in order”.

Distribution guidelines
The faculties will not be getting the same amount of money. Distribution guidelines have been made, based on the average research time received by the scientific staff in each faculty. Those working for faculties with a high number of students, like Humanities, Social Sciences, and Law, Economics, and Management & Organisation tend to have less time for research. Hence these faculties being the ones receiving the most money.

These three faculties are particularly eager to give their university teachers extra research time and hire new university teachers. They have relatively many temporary staff, so first they will verify whether they qualify for permanent positions. The professionals who do qualify will be added to existing research groups, preferably ones working on one of the university's strategic themes.

The faculties are also asked to spend part of their own budget to reduce work pressure. Social Sciences and Law faculty are already doing so.

In the first quarter of 2022, faculties must devise a spending plan, to which the faculty councils will have an advisory right. They must spend the money from the boost each year. If they do not spend everything, the amount not spent goes back to the university. The Executive Board is going to check that every year. Every two years, the employees' monitor is going to be used to measure whether these measures are really improving teachers' wellbeing and decreasing work pressure.

How much is each faculty getting?
Amounts should be multiplied by 1,000.

 

2022

2023

2024

2025

2026

2027

 

Totaal

Percentage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science

€ 750

€ 1.500

€ 1.500

€ 1.500

€ 1.500

€ 750

 

€ 7.500

15%

Veterinary Medicine

€ 250

€ 500

€ 500

€ 500

€ 500

€ 250

 

€ 2.500

5%

Humanities

€ 500

€ 1.000

€ 1.000

€ 1.000

€ 1.000

€ 500

 

€ 5.000

10%

Social Sciences

€ 1.200

€ 2.400

€ 2.400

€ 2.400

€ 2.400

€ 1.200

 

€ 12.000

24%

Law, Economics & Governance

€ 1.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 1.000

 

€ 10.000

20%

Social Sciences

€ 1.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 2.000

€ 1.000

 

€ 10.000

20%

University College Utrecht

€ 50

€ 100

€ 100

€ 100

€ 100

€ 50

 

€ 500

1%

Medicine

€ 250

€ 500

€ 500

€ 500

€ 500

€ 250

 

€ 2.500

5%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Total

€ 5.000

€ 10.000

€ 10.000

€ 10.000

€ 10.000

€ 5.000

 

€ 50.000

100%

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