Erasmus University Rotterdam planned to invest 6 million euros per year for a term of three years. But actual investments fell far short of this mark. Indeed, in 2015 EUR didn’t make any investments whatsoever, “as a result of the diligent decision-making process” according to the university’s Annual Report for that year. And two years on, the explanation is: “In 2016 and 2017, we did not spend everything as budgeted due to projects’ long start-up times.”

Pre-investments in 2015-2017: 18 million euros
Pre-investments per student: 245 euros per year
Financial result in 2015-2017: 40.1 million euros
Student/lecturer ratio: from 27.6 students per lecturer in 2014 to 28.3 in 2017

The university expected to make its final pre-investments last year – i.e. in 2020. That’s why Erasmus University claims in its own annual reports that it has spent a total of 18 million euros. But since the official term for pre-investments ran until year-end 2017, in hindsight 12 million euros seems a more proper tally.

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Coaches, smaller tutorials and blended learning

In 2016 and 2017, the university reserved 2.8 million and 9.3 million euros respectively for its planned investments. Around 10 million of this 12 million total was distributed among the EUR faculties. Most faculties used their funds for smaller-scale and more intensive education, including coaching services for students, smaller tutorials in the master programmes and blended learning projects. In a number of cases, the funds were actually used to reverse planned budget cuts.

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The remaining 2 million euros were earmarked for a central, university-wide ‘innovation fund’. This budget was ultimately ploughed into a Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI): a unit dedicated to innovation in education and the more effective combination of online and offline education options. The university also gained a physical centre of innovation, the Erasmus Education Lab, which houses “creative workshops, an ultra-modern studio and project management that allows users to design, develop and realise the innovation project in partnership with the lecturer.” In practice, CLI seems to mainly occupy itself with producing animated clips, concise ‘knowledge clips’ and massive open online courses.

In 2018, the Netherlands Court of Audit concluded that more than 80% of the pre-investments made at Erasmus University actually counted as pre-investments. In the case of 17% – the funds allocated to the innovation fund – it had to be determined later on whether the budget counted as pre-investment. This provisional status was mainly due to uncertainty as to whether the innovation fund would be up and running in time.

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Huge surpluses


Remarkably, Erasmus University had huge surpluses on its annual account for the years 2015 and 2016 – to the amounts of 13.2 and 27.1 million euros respectively. In other words, contrary to its intention, the university hasn’t really drawn on its own reserves when making investments. Perhaps this also accounts for the increase in EUR’s student/lecturer ratio – the highest nationwide, actually: 28.3 students per lecturer.

This story is part of a series of research stories made possible by the Dutch Journalism Fund and various editorial boards at colleges and universities in the Netherlands. Read more about how and why we conducted this research.