As long as the current government is in place, an additional billion has been requested for science. At the start of her ministry, Van Engelshoven said universities were behaving like Hall Paul Giggs and called it Cachetville University. A year later, she herself came to the conclusion that university funding was in fact lagging and that billions of dollars of investment were indeed needed, in part to meet the large workload.
A fund, not structural money
The coalition agreement presented today shows that this billion won’t come after all. Over the next ten years, five billion euros will be invested in unrestricted research. How exactly this will be implemented will be decided by the Council of Ministers with the House of Representatives. For example, the coalition agreement does not state whether additional funds will also be invested in practice-oriented research. In addition, it is unclear whether this amount should also be paid out of the 500 million euros annually. However, it appears from the financial section of the alliance agreement that this investment of 500 million annually will not be added to the budget of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
How exciting was it a few weeks ago when university officials stumbled upon each other in superlatives over the new German coalition agreement? The German goal was to invest up to 3 per cent of GDP in research during the next cabinet term. This deserves to be followed in the Netherlands, as well as encouragement from universities. However, this desire was not fulfilled either. Investment of up to 3% of GDP, which is also the European target, is mentioned in the new coalition agreement, but what that route there will look like is still not mentioned.
Old cuts stay intact
It is also remarkable in this alliance agreement that the old cuts remain untouched. For example, the previous government wanted to increase the interest on student loans – a plan that failed in the Senate. However, the 226 million missed by the Cabinet was booked as cutbacks in funding universities of applied sciences and in particular universities. Wopke Hoekstra promised that it would be up to a new closet to reverse, but now that the new closet is in place, including the Hoekstra, nothing seems to be reversed.
However, the base scholarship will return in the academic year 2023/2024. However, it appears that reversing the student loan system is costing so much and is so hard on VVD’s throat that it pushes other investments for universities away, according to the agreement. It is also clear that the Council of Ministers allocates one billion to compensate student loans. Students who have studied under the loan scheme can then choose to reduce their student debt or use a study voucher. Since this concerns nearly a million students, it is likely that each of them can count on a reduction of about a thousand euros in student debt.
Lots of old wine in new bottles
The new coalition agreement is not very innovative in other areas related to higher education. For example, a choice in higher education needs to be re-examined, but this is already mentioned in the 2017 alliance agreement.
However, a section on security knowledge has been included. For example, the government says it wants to stimulate the free and safe exchange of ideas and protect the academic freedom of scholars. Frameworks for scientific cooperation with non-free countries are also being developed. The coalition partners wrote: “‘Open Science’ and ‘Open Education’ will become the standards.” Words in this sense were also present in the old coalition agreement, but this time it was provided with an addition: “provided not to endanger national security.”
What will universities do now?
The question now: What will university officials do? At first, with or without the support of Minister van Engelshoven, they were able to stick to the idea of allocating an additional billion to scientific education. Earlier this year, when the Labor Inspectorate investigated the high workload, university administrators often cited this deficiency as an explanation.
The Labor Inspectorate has already warned in 2020 that universities should make additional efforts to reduce work pressure, except for this billion. The question is how can this pressure on universities be relieved now that the billion is not coming in structurally.