Change the way money is distributed among universities & technical universities: gov't advice committee

Students in a lecture
Students in a lecture. (Photo: kasto/DepositPhotos)

The way in which money is distributed among universities and technical universities in the Netherlands needs to change, according to a new report. More money needs to go to technical courses, so they can keep up with the growing demand. And universities should be less dependent on student numbers for their money, the committee concluded.

A committee of inquiry led by former Health State Secretary Martin van Rijn investigated the acute problems in higher education and came up with advice on how to solve them, at the request of Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science, NOS and the Volkskrant report. As acute problems, the committee named high work pressure, an increasing lack of balance between education and research, and competition between universities. 

The demand for technical education has been growing rapidly over the past years, as there is a great need for technically trained workers on the labor market. But the funding for technical universities is lagging behind. Some universities even had to stop taking students for certain courses in the past. The money for higher education must therefore be redistributed between universities and technical universities from next year, the committee said. According to the committee, it is of "great social importance" that the capacity of science and technology courses better match the labor market. 

This involves a total amount of around 70 million euros, according to the Volkskrant. How the redistribution of funds will affect each university differs, because the number of technical courses varies widely. But based on the newspaper's calculations, it looks like the four technical universities will be around 6.6 percent better off, while Erasmus University, Tilburg University and Maastricht University will lose an estimated 4.8 percent of their budgets. 

The umbrella organization for universities VSNU told the newspaper that it is "very concerned" about this par of the advisory report. "This redistribution further increases the workload and will damage the high quality of education and research", the organization said. 

The committee is also worried about the growing number of students linked to the money that institutions receive for these students. The number of students studying at Dutch universities and technical universities increased by 30 percent between 2006 and 2018. The committee calls this a "perverse incentive", according to NOS. Because the more students a university has, the more money that university receives. And that leads to full lecture halls and a high workload for lecturers. The committee wants this student-related budget to be smaller.

The national student's union LSVb is satisfied that the committee advised reducing the student-related budget. This budget forces universities to take in as many students as possible and results in more students per lecturer, the union said in a response. This means that students have to deal with overcrowded lecture halls and a lack of personal attention, LSVb said. "That means that the quality of education decreases and that while students get themselves deeply into debt to be able to study since the introduction of the loan system", chairman Carline van Breugel said. 

According to the committee, "the competition in scientific research has gone too far". Researchers try to acquire as many temporary research resources as possible and spend a lot of time and energy on formulating new applications, the committee said, according to the Volkskrant. This clashes with the increasing student numbers, which demand more time and attention for education.

The whole funding for education and research is outdated, the committee said. A lack of transparency also means that the distribution of available resources is "in the fog". The committee advises doing further research into this, so that the available budget can be reassessed.

Finally, the committee questions the "very high reserves" that higher education institutions hold. The committee thinks there should be an upper limit on the amount of money universities can keep reserved, to prevent that "public money for education and research remains unspent too long".