That study is 37 years ago. At the time, employees were asked to keep track of how they spent their working hours. In 2001, the data produced by this study was used to conclude that 34.9 percent of higher education funding should be allocated to teaching.

That year, the government budget for universities was split into two parts: one for teaching and one for research. Since then, as student numbers kept growing, so did the teaching budgets. Meanwhile, no additional funding was allocated to research.


The Court of Audit levelled strong criticism against the government last June, casting serious doubts as to whether an estimate from 1984 could really still be applied to the work universities do today. Taken aback by the news, the House of Representatives demanded a response from the minister.

The cabinet’s response was brief. While it is true that the 1984 data still influences university funding today, Minister Van Engelshoven wrote, it was the only source available when the current funding system was drafted, and the universities did not want to repeat the study.

Moreover, budget shortfalls in higher education have long been recognised, the minister added. According to her letter, an additional 600 million euros per year is needed to bridge the current gap. “The next cabinet must make a decision on this”, Van Engelshoven wrote, “as well as on the desirability of commissioning a new study to determine how university staff spend their time”.

But why did the universities refuse to repeat the study at the time? According to the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), research like this intrudes on university employees’ privacy, which is why it can only take place in the right ‘climate’. In other words, there was a lack of faith in the outcome if the study were to be repeated.


There’s reason to be optimistic about the current climate. Nothing has been decided yet, but the universities are already exploring ways to carefully record their staff’s time allocation, “now that The Hague also recognises that there are structural shortages in higher education, and that the workload of staff is far too high”.

But according to the VSNU, 1984 was by no means the last time researchers mapped out the work of university employees. The spokesperson lists a number of recent publications on such topics as time allocation, workload and employee wellbeing. You don’t have to conduct a new time allocation study to know that universities need more money, the VSNU argues.

Incidentally, the universities want more additional funding than the 600 million euros mentioned by the minister, which is based on an analysis by consulting firm PwC Strategy&. This analysis states that 600 million euros is needed for both structural funding and to compensate for the funding shortages in recent years. But it also goes on to say that smaller-scale education would cost an additional 200 million euros a year on top of that, raising the grand total to 800 million euros.

The universities themselves are aiming even higher, asking for 1.1 billion euros. This would include a one-time expenditure of 300 million euros for the improvement of facilities.