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Conference 'Funding Universities' links scientific insights to funding issues

On Friday 5 October, the Vrije Universiteit (VU) and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) organized the conference 'Funding Universities' in Amsterdam. More than 100 politicians, scientists, board members and policymakers debated the funding of higher education and how it can be improved to meet its societal goals. Four leading scientists shared their knowledge to support this debate.

Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of the VSNU, kicked-off the conference: "Currently, the funding does not increase with the number of students. This makes it more and more difficult for Dutch universities to deliver the quality that society requires. Moreover, the context in which we operate is changing rapidly because of developments such as internationalization and digitization. Which funding model suits that?". Mirjam van Praag, chairman of the VU, called for thinking outside the existing frameworks. According to Van Praag, extra funding alone is not enough to solve the problems. She called on those present to think about a funding model that supports societal goals and makes use of the scientific insights that the guests will provide.

Nicholas Barr, professor of Public Economics at the London School of Economics, shared an international perspective on the discussion in his keynote speech. He was involved in the reform of the English funding system in 2006. Since then, the government allowed universities to increase their tuition fees to a maximum of £ 3,000 and introduced income-related student loans at the same time. In addition, the government invested earlier in the education chain to counteract inequality. As a result, the number of students from disadvantaged groups increased by 53%. For the future, Barr stated: "If accessibility and equity are important, you should consider the impact of different policy measures - such as a loan system and the level of tuition fees - in a holistic way."

Bas Jacobs (EUR), Bas van der Klaauw (VU) and Marijk van der Wende (UU) offered a different perspective on various aspects of the issue of funding in the light of internationalization and increasing participation in higher education. Jacobs gave more insight into the lessons that economic models can offer us when we think about effective and efficient financing of education, Van der Klaauw in the socio-economic developments associated with the enormous increase in the proportion of higher educated and Van der Wende gave an international perspective and discussed the impact of an open system. The speakers agreed that principles and goals, rather than a model or results, should be central to shaping policy. In addition, they also indicated that the core of intellectual training in academic education will always be the same. Therefore, one must be very careful with linking funding to that social proceeds. Linking funding to real costs should be possible according to Jacobs.
Van der Wende gave an interesting new look at the 'educational trilemma': access, efficiency and quality. She indicated that it does not have to be a trilemma, for example, differentiation does not necessarily have to limit the accessibility of higher education, while it can have a positive effect on quality. She also emphasized the importance of an 'open system': the Netherlands benefits to a large extent from international exchange between students and scientists.
Finally, an appeal was made by the panel to politicians and government: education needs policy that looks beyond a governmental term: a long-term vision.

Photographer: Yvonne Compier


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