Budget Day: substantial investments in universities and concerns about cost increases
Pieter Duisenberg: 'We're lowering the thermostat. If you're going to a lecture, put on a warm sweater.'
Substantial investments will be made in universities in the coming years, totalling more than €1 billion per year in higher education and research. Before the summer, universities reached an administrative agreement with Minister Dijkgraaf regarding the allocation of these investments. On this basis, the 2023 Dutch national budget earmarked €300 million for starter and stimulation grants and €200 million for sector plans. The government is also investing in other areas such as student well-being, research facilities and knowledge security. Pieter Duisenberg, president of Universities of the Netherlands: 'Universities are now starting to apply these investments. Workloads must be reduced, there will be more permanent contracts and academics will have more time for research. The investments will contribute to restoring the foundation and resolving the major challenges of our time, such as the energy transition, digitisation and inequality of opportunity. However, we are concerned about the effects of high energy prices and inflation on the financial position of universities. In order to truly get the foundations in order, the government will need to provide universities with sufficient support to help them cope with rising prices and wages.'
Restoring the foundation
In 2023, €156 million will be invested in starter grants and €144 million in stimulation grants, among other things. This will give universities the opportunity to award around a thousand grants in the coming year. These grants will offer academics greater peace of mind and flexibility when it comes to conducting research, and improve the balance between direct and indirect funding.
The government will make €200 million available per year for sector plans. In the summer, the various academic domains presented their plans to Minister Dijkgraaf. Duisenberg: 'We are making substantial investments in the foundations of universities by means of the sector plans. For example, around 1500 extra FTEs are planned at universities and university medical centres.'
Concerns about cost increases at universities
Universities are pleased with the announced support measures, which will also benefit our students and staff. Nevertheless, there are also concerns. As a result of high inflation, the costs incurred by universities are rising sharply. For example, the total energy bill for universities is expected to increase by around €150 million in 2023. Duisenberg: 'Universities have been focusing on sustainability and savings for a while, but their efforts will now be increased still further. The thermostat will be turned down. To all students and staff, I would say: If you're going to a lecture, put on a warm sweater this winter.'
Inflation is also reflected in the wage requirements in the collective labour agreement negotiations. The government has its own responsibility towards the public sector with regard to enabling a wage increase. Universities are therefore asking the government to come up with an adequate wage and price adjustment in the spring of 2023.
Talent indispensable for government plans
The Budget Memorandum primarily seems to focus on euros. However, talent and knowledge are indispensable when it comes to solving social challenges such as digitalisation, climate adaptation and the energy transition. The current staff shortages show that the availability of talent is under great pressure. The education system is currently insufficiently aligned with this need for talent. Universities and cities are running up against their limits in many areas, while the demand for academic education, academic teachers and lifelong development is only increasing.
Universities are focusing on the highest quality of education, research and impact in order to drive social transitions and innovation. In a new education system, a clearer distinction must be made between vocational education (MBO, HBO) and academic education (WO) so that prospective students and employers have a better understanding of what they are opting for. This will have consequences for primary education right through to academic education. Together, we must ensure that every talent is given the best opportunities to develop. The universities are therefore looking forward to the future study that Minister Dijkgraaf will conduct this year in order to develop a future-proof system of education, research and impact.