For a good cause


Some 280 Norwegian Kroner or a little more than €25 per student. That's what second exam correctors receive at the Norwegian university where I teach part time. The contrast with the Netherlands is stark. Here, we budget only a thank you for our second correctors.

Last week this difference was again made clear. Leiden University put a call out to the retired staff of its Law School. Would they help out with checking exams and theses, as volunteers? Although this year we can put the blame on corona, in truth the universities have been struggling for years with a rising number of students per member of the academic staff.

This could have been dealt with by increasing the budget for the higher education sector. But let's be honest, that would have been a very simple solution. Much more logical, surely, to have university employees deliver more education ‘all in a good cause’, for the exposure, or because it looks good on your résumé. Getting staff to work overtime out of enthusiasm for their field rather than acknowledge that what they do is 'work'.

Finding the work enjoyable isn't the baker's only motivation for baking bread. It's a job; the baker is entitled to be paid. While the Netherlands does not have Norway's oil-fuelled bank balance, it is lunacy that we take unpaid overtime for granted. As if it is a sustainable and acceptable norm. What's more, if it were paid, there would certainly be no shortage of takers: it is only for lack of academic posts that we send most of our PhD candidates into industry with a diploma tucked under their arm.

The Netherlands, the cabinet, Van Engelshoven: Surely we can invest a little more, instead of always simply ratcheting up the work pressure on our universities assistant professors? Surely, with such a liberal cabinet, we can match demand (students) and supply (lecturers) at universities as we do elsewhere? Surely we can bring back some sense of what can be reasonably expected of a person by rewarding their hard work?

Writing all this in university newspaper is preaching to the choir, but it is has to be said because we are becoming much too good at solving our own problems. Loyal retired academics are too dutiful to say 'no' to an appeal of the kind issued by Leiden University - of course they wouldn't. But it gives the powers that be in The Hague the idea that they can load the camel up with yet another straw because those universities, they'll find a way.

Despite my French given name, and the reputation of the French, I'm not one for going on strike. Nor is that necessary: I think university education in this country would collapse if Dutch academics worked only 40 hours a week. To prevent this from happening, I'm asking not an extravagant reward in Norwegian kroner, but for an investment that will bring our extravagant work load back down to something normal - and for that thank you.

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