Hunt for Millions


I can see it in my mind’s eye: our entire Executive Board glued to the television Tuesday afternoon, hanging on King Willem-Alexander’s every word as he delivers the speech from the throne. Like a glorified version of Winston Gerschtanowitz, the tv presenter who gives away cash prizes in the Dutch television show Hunt for Millions, our king was about to announce how many millions TU/e can expect. “Hold on, Robert-Jan, Frank and Nicole, I’ll write the amount on this cheque here.”

Tug of war is a strength sport, but it’s also about perseverance more than anything else. The academic world is quite skilled at it as well. Apparently, the four TU’s are about to receive extra funding to help them cope with all those extra students that came to Eindhoven, Delft, Enschede and Wageningen these last few years. And even though the exactfigures couldn't be found in the national budget Tuesday, our Executive Board strongly believes that Winston-Alexander has written a €16 million euro check for our institution.

How exactly did that tug of war proceed these last couple of years? Somewhere around 2016, the TU’s started to gradually increase pressure on their opponent on the other side of the rope: the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). First, reports about a strong growth of student intake numbers at technical programs began to appear, followed by cries of distress from students, pictures of overcrowded lectures halls, and alarming information concerning the increasing work pressure among the academic staff. Then, the inevitable came: the announcement that even more technical programs should have a ceiling on student numbers in order to guarantee their quality. Naturally, concerned business companies had their say as well, because the newly graduated students who came from these programs were vital to the Dutch economy. An intake limit was not the solution.

Not an inch

The OCW minister at the time, Jet Bussemaker, defends the implementation of a ceiling on student numbers but when it comes to extra means to prevent this, she doesn’t give an inch. Soon after, it looks like the cabinet is starting to tilt somewhat, but nothing becomes really concrete yet. Both parties – we’re talking October 2017 – are still holding on firmly to the rope. And so, TU/e makes an announcement at the end of 2017: for the first time, it will apply a ceiling on student numbers for four programs for the coming academic year.

More cries of indignation and incomprehension from the business industry, but no extra means from OCW. In October 2018, TU/e raises the stakes with two more programs with a ceiling on student numbers. One month later, the Commission Van Rijn starts to work, at minister Ingrid van Engelshoven’s request, at a recommendation on how to approach funding for higher education differently. Result: a sum of 70 million euros needs to be redistributed from the general universities to hard sciences. OCW has stepped into the camp of the TU’s with one foot already! It took some time, but slow and steady wins the race.

Now it looks like an extra 16 million euros will come TU/e’s way in the period until 2022, but just to be certain the university doesn’t quite loosen the reins yet (how’s that for a tug of war analogy!). And our executive board will seriously reconsider cancelling the ceiling on student numbers for Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering after all, should OCW take a firm hold of the rope again during the coming months and decide to backtrack. Because the battle is won only after the opponent is completely pulled over to the other side.

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