Over nine thousand researchers and teachers at the Dutch universities completed a questionnaire by the Labour Authority. The results show that two in five have been bullied in the past two years.

Discrimination (34 percent) and academic-related undesirable behaviour (32 percent) are very common. Even more respondents saw others falling victim to these things. Aggression and violence (12 percent) and sexual harassment (11 percent) aren’t uncommon either.

Overtime, stress

Respondents say they work an average of six hours of overtime per week. Full professors in particular often carry on in the evenings and weekends. Their average amount of overtime exceeds ten hours.

Three quarters has experienced stress “more than a few times per year”. This applies to over 80 percent of assistant professors and 60 percent of full professors, who experience the least stress of all.

The authority doesn’t mention their names, but three universities haven’t even acknowledged that ‘psychosocial workload’ is a risk. This means they’re not complying with legal requirements, the authority states. Nine out of fourteen universities haven’t completed a detailed investigation.

Soft as butter

Nonetheless, notes the authority, there are all kinds of “dialogue platforms, action groups, learning platforms, task forces, working groups, expert groups, steering groups, committees and reflection groups”, but these are apparently not effective. Some respondents say there’s false security: it seems like the universities are doing something, but in practice it doesn’t amount to much. The processes are “soft as butter”.

The Labour Authority asked the universities in 2020 to make plans to combat excessive work pressure and undesirable behaviour. The current assessment of whether the universities actually did anything shows this has been “marginal”.


Universities do take measures, “but employees have limited knowledge of these and use them to a limited extent”, says the report. Also worth noting: “Participation in programs against undesirable behaviour is still almost always voluntary.”

Most universities don’t measure whether their approach is successful either. And they tend not to address the causes, but the incident itself. There is room for improvement, thinks the authority, which recommends taking systematic stock of the underlying causes of working pressure and undesirable behaviour.

Rutger Engels rector opening academisch jaar 2019 foto ronald van den heerik

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Trade Union

Trade union FNV says it’s shocked by the outcomes. “It can’t go on like this”, says administrator Bernard Koekoek. “Academic education is in dire need of solutions.”

The authority has sent reports about their own universities to the executive boards. FNV thinks they should make these local reports public, so the problems can be discussed per university.

University association UNL was not yet able to respond this morning.