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Minister: more permanent contracts lead to less work pressure at universities

Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven is concerned that 67 percent of university personnel still experience high work pressure. The minister and the universities are working towards solutions, one such solution is to reduce the number of temporary jobs.

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Yesterday, the minister answered socialist party parliamentarian Frank Futselaar’s questions about new research conducted by union FNV Education and Research and academic union VAWO. The results showed that actions taken by universities to reduce work pressure have had little effect so far. 67 percent of university personnel still experience high work pressure. Academics (76) more so than supporting staff (50 percent).

Not easy

According to van Engelshoven, work pressure can be attributed so several factors, such as teaching an increasing number of students in combination with the ambition to pursue a career as a researcher. “This can’t be solved easily and fast,” she writes.

The minister asked the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to come up with a joint proposal this year that will lead to a new approach to recognizing and rewarding academics, as well as to an increase of the award rate for submitted research proposals.

She supports the recent initiative of universities, academic hospitals and research councils towards a radically new approach to recognizing and rewarding academics, for instance by appreciating teaching achievements of lecturers more. The minister made half a million euros available to support these ambitions and to develop pilots.

Temporary contracts

The large number of temporary contracts attributes to work pressure as well. Van Engelshoven says she is “concerned that university personnel experiences more performance pressure because they have a temporary contract.” She believes it would helpful if universities kept a closer eye on their budgets and were more willing to offer employees permanent contracts. In order to facilitate this, the ministry of education should in turn make sure there are less fluctuations in the annual flows of funds.

The minister also points to the advisory committee led by former state secretary Martin van Rijn that will advise her on how to reduce financial incentives that boost student numbers. She is also currently working on a legislative proposal that will allow universities to offer non-Dutch programs only when they are of added value and when teachers are supported in their command of the language in question.

More money

The minister rejects the demand of the unions that she should allocate 1.5 billion euros in overdue funding to higher education. Van Engelshoven: “This cabinet already invests substantially, 581 million in 2019 for higher education and research.” She rules out additional investments but believes the universities have the opportunity to invest more. “They achieved a positive financial result during the last few years, over 63 million euros in 2017. The positive result can be used to invest in education and research, and to reduce the number of temporary contracts.”

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