6 December 2018 • HOP, by Bas Belleman
Piggy bank: minister rebukes research universities and praises universities of applied sciences
The universities of applied sciences are running at a loss and the cabinet is happy with that. It means enough money is going to education. In contrast, the research universities have been making a profit for years and that’s not the intention.
The Dutch education finances are looking good, stated both ministers of education today. The Inspectorate looked into it for them. It may actually be going too well, thinks Van Engelshoven and Slob. “Saving should not become a goal in itself.” Educational institutes’ piggy banks shouldn’t be allowed to fill up too much, warns the cabinet, because that means the money is not going to the classrooms or lecture halls.
In the red
The universities of applied sciences are doing fine, according to the ministers. Almost two-thirds of universities of applied sciences ended up in the red last year and that would be a sign that they are “budgeting more efficiently” and “using their own reserves”. However, one of the universities of applied sciences, HAS Den Bosch, has been put under tightened supervision due to weak liquidity. In contrast, research universities’ financial indicators are “stable” and the majority of the research universities are doing well. They thought they would be facing loses but have ended up in the plus.
But what about those demonstrations? Protest movement WOinActie will be taking to the streets of The Hague on 14 December to protest the cuts to education. They believe another billion should be made available. The ministers note: “There is a disparity between the positive financial position of the research universities and the financial urgency experienced by the research universities.
More efficient budgeting
The research universities must budget more efficiently, say the ministers. But, well, they were aware of that already. Wages and prices increase year after year but the institutes will eventually get additional money for that: they can expect it. They can also ensure that the government funding increases by attracting more students.
“Goal in itself?”
The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) confirms this. “We get that money each year, even if it comes too late,” says spokesperson Bart Pierik. “We are simply going to include it in the budget and we have announced that already. We also have a few other ideas. But that would mean optimising a system that is under extreme pressure. The government funding per student has been decreasing for years, this doesn’t change that. Actually, we need to move to a more acceptable and sustainable system of funding.”
But research universities have reserves for a reason, he emphasises. They are intended for all kinds of future expenses, for example buildings or education. “Name one institute for which saving is a goal in itself.”
This discussion is not over yet. In the Lower House, Minister Van Engelshoven scorned Disney Land University and the Greedy Gus logic, for whom no amount is ever enough. The message is that the cabinet is spending additional money on education, and the yields from the new student loan system are on their way to higher education.
The Educational Inspectorate encourages the institutes to let the money roll. “It may sound strange coming from the mouth of a supervisory body but it would be good if the parties involved in education would enter discussions about the government policy on multi-annual budgeting”, writes the inspector general Monique Vogelzang, “and thereby, somewhat subdue the current reticence around negative budgeting.”