University lecturers in a number of cities are protesting the current budget cuts in higher education. The government should scrap this economy measure (or ‘efficiency abatement’) according to the WOinActie protest group. In fact, they say the higher education budget should actually be increased by over EUR 1 billion per year.
The lecturers have found ‘a charming way’ to protest the plans, wrote the Minister today in her letter to the House of Representatives. “Lecturers and professors have taken their lectures outdoors. This way, everyone can share the fruits of their knowledge and expertise.”
Van Engelshoven acknowledges that pressure of work at the universities is quite high. And she is prepared to think along about a solution. For example, she intends to increase the stability of the institutions’ finances, so that it becomes easier for them to offer staff members an open-ended contract.
At the beginning of this month, however, the research universities and universities of applied sciences came with a more radical proposal to alleviate the current financial pressure on the higher education sector: why wait for years spending the hundreds of millions that will become available thanks to the new loan system, if we can already do so right now?
The basic idea is that the government allocates funds to higher education a few years before they actually enter its coffers: this is called a ‘carryover’. Minister Van Engelshoven writes that she is quite sympathetic to the idea.
Research universities and universities of applied sciences are currently working together with their representative bodies on solid plans for spending the millions released by the cancellation of the basic grant. But if they have good reasons for spending some of these funds sooner than expected, the Minister doesn’t mind cooperating.
Agreement on student grant millions
Universities are free to decide for themselves how to spend the money, as long it is used…
The new loan system was introduced in 2015. While the government no longer pays students a basic grant, this didn’t perk up the education budget straight away. The higher education sector had to wait a bit longer, with the first 200 million becoming available as of this year.
In the past, students who had moved out were entitled to an annual basic grant of EUR 3,300 for four years. Students who stayed at home received EUR 1,200 per year. This amount was remitted when they earned their degree. In the new situation, students are still allowed to borrow money, but they will be required to repay their entire debt after graduation. This arrangement starts generating income from the moment students start redeeming their loans.
The architects of the new loan system always claimed revenue would run up to EUR 1 billion – although this also assumed the government could save some EUR 200 million on the free public transport scheme for students – an objective that seemed rather unrealistic from the get-go. Should the funds indeed be made available sooner, by means of a ‘carryover’, revenue will also be topped off sooner. Leaving even less chance of making that clean billion.