Politicians in The Hague are somewhat surprised. According to the Court of Audit, the Ministry calculates the universities’ budget on the basis of 37-year-old information. Isn’t the information way out-of-date?
The information in question relates to how lecturers spend their working hours: how much time goes to research and how much to teaching? On that basis the funding of universities was split in 2001 into two parts: teaching and research. The teaching part grew in line with student numbers, while the research part remained roughly the same.
That is something the Lower House wanted to know more about. In a short letter, outgoing minister Van Engelshoven acknowledged that the Court of Audit was right. A study from 1984 was the only source available at the time.
She added that there was no support base for another such study and that the imbalance in the budget has long since been acknowledged. Indeed, consultancy PwC has said that the universities need more money.
VVD, D66 and SP felt that was too simplistic and asked a few additional questions. Is it actually necessary to have a support base at the universities in order to conduct such a study again, the VVD wondered. Wouldn’t the minister herself like to know how lecturers spend their working time?
The SP agreed. The party also wanted to know what university staff have to say about it. Aren’t they interested in a study like that? Maybe their opinion differs from that of their management.
37 years old
And if that information is 37 years old, the SP argued, what about the other calculations, estimates and assessments in the higher education sector? Would the minister like to take a closer look at them and update them if necessary?
Finally, D66 wondered why that budget split even exists. Moreover, universities also get a ‘fixed base’ – an amount that they receive regardless, separate from teaching and research. For old universities that amount is higher than for newer universities. Why, D66 asked.
In fact, D66 made a small error. Inadvertently, it read the Dutch word for ‘time recording study’ (in which people record their work on an hourly basis) as ‘magazine study’. So the party wanted to know what the conclusion of that ‘magazine’ was.
But the bottom line is that the Lower House is not satisfied that something as fundamental as the allocation of the money is based on dated information. The minister was unable to give an immediate answer, so the debate will resume at a later date.