According to the Public and Semi-Public Sector Senior Officials (Standard Remuneration) Act (WNT), this is the maximum salary that can be paid to high-ranking administrators of major education institutions. Topping the list is Utrecht University Board Chair Anton Pijpers, who took home a cushy 229,978 euros that year.

In the eleven months that Kristel Baele served as Chair of EUR’s Executive Board in 2019 (stepping down as of 1 December), she was paid 218,943 euros. In other words, Baele’s remuneration exceeded the maximum set for her position by more than 40,000 euros. In its Annual Report, EUR justifies this surfeit by arguing that Baele’s salary was covered by a transitional scheme and that she was entitled to holiday allowances for preceding years that had been deferred. The accountant approved this.

Old contracts

At the smaller, less complex universities and universities of applied sciences, senior officials’ pay had already been already capped back in 2016. Looking at this category, we see another 15 administrators earning in excess of this lower WNT standard for their institution. Still, no one is actually breaking the law: for a maximum of seven years, semi-public officials can take advantage of old salary agreements in their pre-WNT contract.

Another remarkable finding is that one third of the 147 senior officials in higher education earn exactly the maximum set for their respective institutions, or that their pay falls short of this amount by no more than 1,000 euros. One exception to this rule is the Executive Board of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, one of the largest institutions of its kind. In 2019, the board members were ‘entitled’ to 194,000 euros but settled for salaries ranging between 161,000 and 188,000 euros.


Douwe van der Zweep, member of the Executive Board of the General Union of Education (AOb), is pleased to see WNT whittling back the excessive amounts paid to senior officials in higher education. “Although it’s a slow process,” notes Van der Zweep in an interview in Onderwijsblad. “I understand that you can’t simply do away with previous contractual agreements. But nevertheless, it’s frustrating that we still see salaries well in excess of 200,000 euros.”

Moreover, he points out that the cap on ministerial salaries has been raised to 201,000 euros for 2020, and to 209,000 for the present year. We can see comparable increases at smaller institutions.

Stark contrast

Salaries paid in the higher echelons of the education sector have come in for considerable criticism in recent years. These often sizeable meal tickets stand in stark contrast to the heavy pressure of work, glut of temporary contracts and occasionally low earnings that lower-ranking staff have to live with. In 2018, a majority of the House of Representatives adopted a motion submitted by SP and PVV to return to a more normal situation where senior education officials are remunerated according to the sector’s CLA. But so far, the government have not taken any concrete measures in this vein.

Senior officials in higher education have not been covered by the CLA since 1999, when the institutions where granted more autonomy in this area. As of that year, senior officials have negotiated the terms of their employment with their institution’s supervisory board.