The more than 40,000 lecturers, students, teachers and pupils who honoured the request issued by two education-oriented trade unions, Algemene Onderwijsbond and FNV Onderwijs en Onderzoek, to join the protest march, walked towards the large stage, where a band was playing at that point, in large numbers.
Despite the poor weather, all layers of the education industry were represented at the march, from primary schools to universities. Although every protester was defending his or her own interests and needs, the day was really about one thing: the fact that the entire education sector is under pressure and badly in need of more money, to the point where the trade unions are demanding an additional €4 billion for all education institutions in the country.
Between occasional bouts of sunshine, there would be the odd downpour, causing those listening to the speakers to sink even further into the mud with their shoes. They didn’t seem to care. Everyone could relate to the personal stories being told on stage.
“We all have one goal in common,” said Rens Bod, a full professor at the University of Amsterdam, and the initiator of WOinActie. “To safeguard the quality of our education system.” He can’t believe that some professors teach lectures to a whopping one thousand students at a time. “Does the Cabinet even care about education?” He feels that only greater investments and the abolition of recently implemented measures will be able to turn the tide.
'My high workload is at the expense of my students'
“I’m unable to complete all my tasks in the hours I’m allocated to complete them. It’s not unusual for me to work at night and on weekends. If I have to teach a seminar the next day, I often won’t be able to start preparing for it until the night before, after dinner. During the day I must meet people, teach lectures, conduct my research, supervise students and PhD students and keep records of everything. I can’t do all of that in eight hours. My high workload is at the expense of my students. I don’t have enough time to properly mark exams. As a result, my students are only given marks, without any feedback, even though they expect to receive feedback.
I particularly spend a lot of time applying for research grants, even though I’m hardly allocated any hours to do so. So I’ll spend months of my own time on getting the funding, even though chances of securing funding are infinitesimal.
I get the feeling politicians don’t really hear us. Nothing is happening. And it’s not just a higher education issue, either. All layers of the education system are expected to get more work done by fewer people. This subject must be broached by all of us.”
'My daughter is not receiving proper teaching'
“I’m on strike for several reasons. The first is our workload, which keeps getting worse. If I’m sick, my seminar will be postponed, but I won’t get a replacement, as it is incredibly hard to find lecturers. So in the end I’ll have to teach that seminar myself, meaning I’ll have less time to focus on my other duties. So we’re not getting any sick pay. Whenever we come up with proposals designed to relieve our workload, we’re told there isn’t enough money. We’re getting more students every year, which is obviously a good thing. But at the same time, we’re not getting additional funding.
“I’m also on strike to support my students. They no longer have student grants. As a result, they are starting their working lives with a huge student loan debt. They were promised that the money would be invested in higher education, but I’m not seeing any signs that it is. So basically, the students were given a present they are paying for themselves.
“But I’m also on strike to support my own daughter. When a teacher at her school is sick, his or her pupils are divided across other classes, meaning each thirty-pupil class gets another five pupils in it. My daughter is not receiving proper teaching that way.
“The Cabinet says there is not enough money for the education sector, but there is plenty of money. It’s just being spent on the business community rather than on education or health care.”
'Without feedback, the quality of our degree programmes will deteriorate'
“I’m concerned about two things: the high workload and the huge amount of red tape I’m expected to engage in. I have to mark 3,500 reports for my first-year students. If I want to do a proper job of that and give my students some feedback, too, I will need 1.5 hours per report, but I’m given half an hour to do it. Without proper feedback, the quality of our degree programmes will deteriorate.
“Then there’s all the record-keeping. Evaluating a subject takes a lot of time. I’m not allocated any hours to do so. All the work I’m expected to do on that score is at the expense of my teaching activities. And the red tape is only getting worse. I’m genuinely concerned about that.
“Although I’m getting the impression that politicians are not hearing us, I’m here, anyway, today. I want to keep contributing as I may.”
'Applying for a research grant takes an immense amount of time'
“We are hanging on by our fingernails. There is a huge shortage of research funding. It takes an immense amount of time to apply for grants. So I’ve stopped doing it. I only give it a try if I have a reasonable chance of success. So I no longer write massive letters of application; just brief one-page letters. Needless to say, this is not doing my career any favours.
“Moreover, those temporary contracts are terrible. People are continually being strung along, and they keep feeling they have to prove themselves, all the time. It’s making a lot of people feel insecure. They are in the prime of their lives and they want security.
“I doubt this strike will have much of an effect. Politicians don’t listen. And yet here I am.”
'No room for self-esteem'
“I’m getting the impression that measurability, output and efficiency are overemphasised in the education sector. As a result, the quality of our degree programmes is deteriorating. There is no longer any room for students’ and lecturers’ self-esteem.
“I’m doing a Master’s degree in Humanistic Studies and I’m getting my teaching qualifications, as well. There’s so much emphasis on publications and conducting research at universities that there is hardly any time left for teaching. This is at the expense of valuable teaching, which is to say, teaching that helps you focus on personality development, philosophy of life and your pupils’ and students’ growth. Unfortunately, these things cannot be measured, so no money is allocated to them.”
‘Eight hundred students in one lecture theatre is not an exception'
“We must make greater investments in our education system. Not just for the lecturers’ sake, but for the students’ sake, too. They can see that the quality of our degree programmes is deteriorating. Mass lectures taught to eight hundred students in one lecture theatre are not an exception. Students are given less feedback, and student supervision could be improved, as well.
“Lecturers who are completely overworked do not set a good example. They are always juggling several responsibilities at once. Teaching is often secondary to the research they are expected to carry out, which is incredibly competitive. It means students do not have a safe learning environment. There is hardly any room for mistakes. Often you can re-sit an exam or re-submit a report, but often you’ll have no idea how. If you don’t get any feedback, you won’t know what you did wrong. There’s no room for a face-to-face conversation.”
'Students and lecturers are at the end of their tethers'
“I’m in Year 1 of my Bachelor of Education, and I’m so incredibly busy. After my work placement activities, I often have to mark tests and keep records until late in the evening. And I’m also expected to prepare for my own exams and write work placement reports on top of that. I can’t do all of that on my own, so I’m here to ask for more people to be hired in the education sector.
“I’m not only suffering from the increased workload with regard to my work placement. I can see at school, too, that my lecturers are having difficulty properly allocating their time. I often find that lessons were rescheduled or not properly scheduled in the first place. Sometimes students and lecturers alike are too tired to do a good job of it. That’s very frustrating.
“At the same time, education institutions only have very small budgets. For instance, I’m not getting any kind of allowance for the work I do as part of my work placement at a primary school in Haarlem. If there’s not enough money for the actual teachers, there certainly isn’t enough money to pay me.”
'Make sure things are OK for the children'
“I can see how hard my students are working and how many hours they are putting in. Due to the huge shortage of physics teachers, they are teaching and preparing for their classes independently, even though they are only students. This means they don’t have enough time to attend school and complete their own degrees. It’s unfair that they’re having to do all this work and sometimes end up failing to get their degrees.
“This overtime is not just at the expense of their school work, but of their private lives, as well. Their workload is so tremendous that a student of mine was actually overworked a while ago. That’s so sad. It’s insane that Dutch secondary school teachers have so many contact hours – many more than their counterparts in other European countries. As far as I’m concerned, that number must be drastically reduced.
“Obviously, I have a considerable workload myself. At universities of applied sciences, the problems are mainly related to internal procedures, but I’m more concerned about my students. I guess that’s what teachers do, right? Make sure things are OK for the children.”