The Minister responded to questions from SP Member of Parliament Frank Futselaar regarding a new survey from the FNV Education and Research trade union and the VAWO Academic Union. The survey revealed that up until now, measures taken by universities to reduce work pressure have had little effect. Sixty-seven percent of university personnel still experience high work pressure. This figure is higher among academics (76 percent) than among support staff (50 percent).
According to Van Engelshoven, work pressure is the result of multiple factors, such as teaching classes with more and more students, in combination with the ambition to forge a career as a researcher. “This is not something that can be resolved quickly or easily”, she writes.
She has asked the VSNU Association of Universities in the Netherlands, the research funder NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to come up with a joint proposal this year for better appraisal of education and improved remuneration for those who work in this field. The proposal should also include ideas on how to raise the acceptance rate of research funding applications.
She backs a recent initiative of universities, university hospitals and research funders to overhaul how academic staff are appraised and assessed. This includes, for example, placing more emphasis on the value of teaching performance. She has made one million euro available to support these ambitions and develop pilot initiatives.
Another cause of work pressure is the high number of temporary employment contracts. Van Engelshoven is ‘concerned that employees experience more pressure to perform because they have temporary contracts.’ In her opinion, it would help if universities improve their budgeting and take on the risk of offering more permanent contracts. This could be better facilitated if the ministry, for its part, could ensure fewer fluctuations in the annual funding flow.
The Minister additionally referred to the Van Rijn Committee, which will provide her with recommendations that include ways of reducing the financial incentives that drive up student numbers. She’s also currently working on a legislative proposal that would allow using another language of instruction in education only if it has added value to do so, and if lecturers are provided with support to gain a command of the language in question.
She dismisses the trade unions’ demand that 1.15 billion in funding be provided to higher education due to funding deficits. “This cabinet has already made significant investments; 581 million in 2019 for higher education and research.” She doesn’t see any scope for extra investment, but she feels there are steps the universities could take themselves. “They’ve continuously had positive results over the past few years, with around 63 million euro in 2017. This could be used to invest in education and research and reduce the number of temporary employment contracts.”