As long as the current cabinet is in place, an additional billion has been requested for science. At the start of his ministry, Van Engelshoven said the universities behaved like Holle Bolle Gijs and called them the University of Kaatsheuvel. A year later, however, she herself came to the conclusion that university funding was actually lagging behind and that a multibillion-dollar investment was indeed needed, in part to counter the heavy workload.
A fund, not structural money
The coalition agreement presented today shows that this billion will not come in the end. Over the next ten years, five billion euros will be invested in unhindered research. The exact way in which this will be implemented will be decided by the cabinet in collaboration with the Chamber. For example, the coalition agreement does not specify whether additional funds will also be invested in practice-oriented research. Moreover, it is not clear whether this should also be paid out of the 500 million euros per year. It appears from the financial section of the coalition agreement that this investment of 500 million per year will not be added to the budget of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
What was the excitement a few weeks ago when university administrators pounced on each other with superlatives about the new German coalition deal? The German goal was to invest up to 3% of GDP in research during the next ministerial term. This deserved to be followed in the Netherlands, just like the encouragement of the universities. However, this wish does not come true either. The investment of 3% of GDP, which is also the European target, is mentioned in the new coalition agreement, but what that road will look like there is not mentioned.
The old cuts remain intact
It is also striking in this coalition agreement that the old cuts remain intact. For example, the previous cabinet wanted to increase interest on student loans – a plan that failed in the Senate. However, the 226 million that the cabinet missed was counted as cuts in the funding of universities of applied sciences and in particular universities. Wopke Hoekstra has promised it is up to a new cabinet to turn the tide, but now that the new cabinet is in place, including Hoekstra, nothing appears to be reversed.
However, the basic scholarship will revert to the 2023/2024 academic year. Reversing the student loan system, however, seems to cost so much and is such a hot potato in the VVD’s throat that it is pushing back further investments for universities, according to the deal. It is also becoming clear that the cabinet is allocating $ 1 billion to offset student loans. Students who have studied under the loan system can then opt for a reduction in their student loan debt or the use of a student check. Since this concerns nearly a million students, each of them will probably be able to count on about a thousand euros of student debt reduction.
Lots of old wine in new bottles
The new coalition agreement is not very innovative in other areas related to higher education. For example, selection in higher education needs to be reconsidered, but this was already stated in the 2017 coalition agreement.
However, a passage has been included on the security of knowledge. For example, the cabinet says it wants to stimulate the free and safe exchange of ideas and safeguard the academic freedom of scientists. Frameworks are also set up for scientific cooperation with non-free countries. “Open science and open education will become the norm,” write the coalition partners. Words to this effect were also included in the old coalition agreement, but this time they have an addition: “provided that national security is not threatened”.
What are the universities going to do now?
The question now is: what are university administrators going to do? At first, with or without the support of Minister Van Engelshoven, they were able to cling to the idea that an additional billion should be allocated to science education. Earlier this year, when the Labor Inspectorate investigated the high workload, university administrators often cited the shortage as an explanation.
The Labor Inspectorate has already warned in 2020 that universities must make additional efforts to reduce the pressure of work, outside of this billion. The question is how to ease this pressure on universities now that the billion is not structurally available.
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