Seventeen educational organisations have drawn up a petition to demand that universities implement more permanent appointments and greater participation in decision-making, and also ensure fewer negative incentives.

“The House of Representatives will propose a new bill for university administration in the most optimistic scenario,” says Hans Radder of the Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten (Platform for Dutch University Reforms, H.NU), who started the petition (in Dutch). Mr Radder added that the petition, which has been signed by the General Union of Educational Personnel and the Vakbond voor de Wetenschap (Union for Academic Staff) as well as by H.NU, is an “action programme for the near future”.

Temporary appointments pose a threat to continuity

The first point in the plan of action is to ensure fewer temporary appointments. About 60% of the academic staff have a permanent contract at present, but this percentage must be increased to 80%. “Although this may seem to be merely a technical point, there’s a whole ideology behind it,” explains Mr Radder. “Universities are under the impression that science can only thrive in an atmosphere of permanent competition, but this view has now gone too far.” The large number of temporary appointments pose a threat to educational continuity and they have also created a divide, since some scholars carry out research with the aid of grants while others provide education on the basis of temporary contracts.

Fewer negative incentives

Although the academic vision that Minister of Education Jet Bussemaker recently presented does acknowledge this problem, the petition states that it is still unclear what exactly the Ministry and the universities intend to do about it. The same applies to grants and loans based on credits, dissertations or publications, which is the second point in the action programme. “Thanks to this academic vision, we can see that things have started moving,” says Mr Radder. “And we feel the time has now come to help this momentum along a bit.”

An elected rector

In addition, the 17 organisations want to increase participation in decision-making, and Mr Radder is in favour of allowing students and lecturers to elect a rector themselves. But is this a realistic idea? Very few people turn up to vote for more participation. “This isn’t just a formality,” says Mr Radder. “If rectors are going to be elected, they have to discuss their plans and motives with students and lecturers first. Elections are a way of introducing change in the executive culture.”

Science in Transition has not joined the petition

The Science in Transition action group, which also aims to introduce academic reforms, is conspicuous in its absence from the list of signatories. Rinze Benedictus of the action group says: “We knew about this and we do subscribe to most of the petition content, but our problem analysis is a bit more extensive. This only forms part of our agenda, and that’s why we’ve decided not to give the petition our formal support.”

The petition will be launched on Friday and presented to MPs Jasper van Dijk (SP) and Paul van Meenen (D66). HOP