According to VSNU, the Dutch universities stand to lose a combined €14 million’s worth of funding. VSNU’s calculations show that Erasmus University will be hit particularly hard by the Van Rijn Committee’s plans. EUR will lose a relatively large share of its funding due to the proposed reallocation of funds to other universities.

EUR has issued a response stating that the university supports the Van Rijn Committee’s conclusion that the way in which the higher education sector is currently being funded causes academics’ workload to be too heavy. However, the university feels that the proposed budget cuts to the humanities, social sciences and medicine ‘are not right’, as they would only increase the workload for academics working in these fields. EUR also stated in its response that it does not agree with the contention that there are too many students taking degrees in the humanities, social sciences and medicine.

“Scientists in various disciplines are increasingly collaborating and need each other to address the challenges our society is facing. In addition, scientists active in STEM subjects are increasingly finding that their innovations are ineffective without an understanding of the humanities and social sciences. Secondly, the Netherlands is competing against countries all over the world, both in terms of the economy and in terms of science. For that reason, higher education and research need more funding, rather than budget cuts,” the university said in its response. EUR also indicated that it fully agrees with the response issued by VSNU.

Undone

Last Monday night, when the Lower House debated the recommendations issued by the Van Rijn Committee with the Minister for Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, the leftist parties PvdA, GroenLinks and SP asked how the humanities, social sciences and STEM subjects would be affected by the proposed measures. They also wanted to know whether the ‘soft landing’ promised in the recommendation, in the form of an allocation of an additional €41 million, would not be undone by things such as the lack of a pay rise due to inflation adjustment in 2019.

During that same meeting, the Minister for Education supplied a table listing all the budgetary allocations and cuts, only for GroenLinks to say that the table was incomplete. Van Engelshoven promised she would once more have all the budgetary allocations and cuts mapped out in full. “But in the meantime, I can assure you that the balance will be very firmly in the black.”

The universities beat the Minister to it. On Wednesday, VSNU published a table whose first column lists the effects of the Ministry’s budgetary allocations and cuts for each individual university, based on the table Van Engelshoven issued to the MPs on Monday.

Once the income generated by the student loan system (which must be used for the improvement of degree programmes and is being generated by students who no longer receive student grants) was subtracted, each university ended up with a particular amount, from which the price adjustment for universities that was withheld for 2019 was subtracted, too.

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The final column presents the effect the reallocation of the budget proposed by the Van Rijn Committee will have by 2023, including all the budgetary allocations and cuts. It shows, among other things, that Maastricht University, which the Minister said would lose 2 per cent (i.e., €5 million) in 2023, will actually lose €9.4 million, according to VSNU’s calculations. And all Dutch universities combined will be €14 million in the red.

Moreover, VSNU conducted a simulation to calculate how the Van Rijn Committee’s proposals will affect the fields of humanities and social sciences on the one hand, and medicine on the other. According to VSNU’s calculations, these fields will lose €70 million and €50 million, respectively.

The Ministry’s reaction

According to Michiel Hendrikx, the Minister for Education’s spokesperson, VSNU wrongly failed to incorporate several sums listed in the Minister’s table into its calculations. First, the €24-million injection resulting from the income generated by student loans. Furthermore, the €70 million to be allocated to the ‘sector plans’ for STEM subjects and the social sciences and humanities, €105 million to be allocated to the National Research Agenda, and €15 million’s worth of additional allocations to research. Once the €6 million ‘efficiency cut’ has been subtracted, this all adds up to €208 million. “Now subtract the 14 million VSNU came up with and the joint universities will be 194 million in the black.”

Hendrikx also stated that VSNU and the Ministry of Education arrived at different amounts because VSNU included the price adjustment for the higher education sector that was withheld in its calculations, whereas the Ministry did not. “If you include that one, you must also include the 100 million euros that were paid out in relation to the wage adjustment. We didn’t include either of these amounts because they do not concern ‘increased expenditure due to a policy decision’. We didn’t include the income included in the Spring Memorandum, which saw us pay out an additional 65 million to compensate for the unpredicted increase in student numbers, either.”

VSNU’s response

Hendrikx stated that VSNU was wrong not to include the income generated by student loans in its calculations. “But these funds do end up with the universities, so it would be weird not to mention them, particularly since they are enormous amounts.”

Student interest groups will say: hey, we sacrificed our student grants. That money should not be used to plug other holes.

“No, it shouldn’t. For this reason, additional investments agreements have been and are still being drawn up, and they must be authorised by NVAO [the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders].”

Suppose, though, that the universities and universities of applied sciences will receive a combined €600 million for the improvement of their degree programmes, but at the same time, their budgets will be cut to the point where they will no longer be able to afford to maintain their buildings, which are slowly crumbling away.

“Thankfully, things are not that bad at the universities. We showed in our table what additional sums will be allocated to higher education and research. The income generated by the student loans must be used to improve our universities’ degree programmes, as agreed. However, it is up to the universities themselves how to spend the rest of their budget – for instance, in response to the Van Rijn Committee’s recommendation. They are in charge of their own budget allocation models, as they always have been.”

The comprehensive universities fear that their STEM faculties will no longer show solidarity with their other faculties if they aren’t allocated any additional funds in the long term, because this will put them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the four Dutch universities of technology.

“A study will be carried out to decide whether the current budget suffices, and we may make some new decisions once it has been completed. There is something else, though. Those STEM faculties may well find themselves thinking: it’s great that Dutch STEM faculties are receiving so much more funding, so let’s collaborate more. Comprehensive universities and universities of technology have already begun doing so. Those collaborative partnerships are exactly what the Minister is after.”