Read the interview with Florian Wijker

EUR: swimming in cash like Uncle Scrooge

The introduction of the loan scheme was expected to lead to a dramatic increase in…

Student member Florian Wijker of the University Council is not happy that money is left over. According to Wijker, the university has 15 million euro on average left over annually. Is that right, do you think?

“In 2017 we had 10 million left over. That isn’t entirely in line with that 15 million, first of all, but you also have to see it in comparison to the total budget. Then 10 million euro is less than 2 percent. It is inherent to such a substantial budget that it doesn’t come out entirely even. Then we’re actually doing rather well, and better than in previous years. And we can be pleased that a positive difference is involved, because if we had shown this the other way around for years, we would have a big problem now. But it remains difficult, because the central government grant is not always easy to predict.”

Why is that?

“The ministry systematically underestimates the national growth in the number of students; that also holds for the wage cost of living adjustment. At first we followed the ministry’s estimates, but now that we know that those are systematically too low, we use our own estimates in the budget plans. We did that for the first time in 2018. Then faculties know better how much money they will get, so they can budget better. We’re even encouraging faculties to draw up a negative budget this year.”

What does that mean?

“In the coming years, more and more money will be available from the higher education quality agreements (hoger onderwijs kwaliteitsafspraken, HOKA: money from the Ministry of Education that is to improve education, as compensation for the abolition of the basic student grant). We’re asking faculties to develop plans for the peak of the HOKA resources, so not for the lower amounts of the initial years. Then if they are short of money, we want to cover that from the central budget.”

Isn’t that commitment to cover money a risk, if there is suddenly a reduction from the government, or fewer students come than expected?

“Fortunately, we can afford that at the moment, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. But it is rather suspenseful. We’re drawing up a negative budget for 2019. That’s quite something. With the national discussion, as with the Van Rijn commission, reductions are unfortunately a real risk. But it seems a good thing to me that we use something from our reserves in the long term.”

In 2015 the loan system was introduced. The students who were starting a bachelor then are now finished. Have they benefitted from those extra expenditures?

“I think that despite the surpluses, a lot has been invested in recent years, for instance in the new Education Lab, ICT, study areas, in the campus in general and in the Erasmus Initiatives.”

But the Education Lab only opened last year, and students are still complaining about study areas.

“That’s true, but the decision to invest came earlier. It takes time to develop plans and make investments in education and research. I understand that that doesn’t always move at the pace that students had hoped for. But the question is whether that is realistic. Furthermore, at a university we have participatory decision-making, which legitimately aims to analyse and assess all plans. As soon as you want to invest more than a million euro, you must take it to the University Council. That’s very good, but it also takes time and diligence. The demands keep rising with regard to study areas. We have to do our best to keep meeting that demand. So now we’re going to invest again in places in the Tinbergen Building.”