Nearly all professors and associate professors have an open-ended contract. But lower on the ladder, temporary contracts are still very common. Unions have been protesting this situation for years, and it continues to be a bone of contention in the sector’s CLA negotiations. Only this spring, Minister Van Engelshoven reproached the universities for being too withholding in their budget allocations. She called on them to offer more staff members a permanent position.
This hubbub may have had some effect. Nationwide, the share of scientists with a ‘flex contract’ has decreased from 42 percent in 2015 to 39 percent in 2018, according to the latest figures published by the association of universities VSNU. The only universities bucking the trend are Delft, Tilburg and the Open University: they have actually increased the number of academic staff on a temporary contract.
One category that has done relatively well when it comes to a permanent position consists of assistant professors, although one out of four (26 percent) still has an end date on his or her contract. In 2015, this percentage still stood at 31. While spokesperson Marijtje Jongsma of the academic union VAWO finds this a heartening development, she is quick to point out that there are still major differences from one university to the next. “In Tilburg, 61 percent of the assistant professors are still on a fixed-term contract, at Erasmus University 56 percent, and in Groningen 43 percent.” The situation is markedly different at Delft University of Technology (1 percent) and the University of Amsterdam (9 percent).
The category ‘other lecturers’ (OWPOW in the jargon) is also something of a mixed bag: Utrecht University offers 82 percent of these employees a fixed-term contract, followed by Erasmus University at 75 percent and Leiden close on our heels at 74. Nationwide, 51 percent of the OWPOW lecturers have to make do with a temporary status, compared to 56 percent in 2015.
The thing that gives Jongsma most concern is the growing imbalance between the number of students and academic staff members. “According to VSNU’s figures, the number of registered students rose by over 10 percent between 2016 and 2018 (from 264,681 to 291,277), while academic staff (not including PhD candidates) only increased by 5.3 percent (from 17,660 FTEs to 18,600 FTEs).”
She refers to the results of polls held among university employees by the trade unions FNV and VAWO: “Over the past three years, these polls have shown that academic staff work overtime on a structural basis – on average 20 percent of their contracted hours– and experience high pressure of work. In that respect, these new figures don’t bode too well.”