Recast Rutte coalition attributes “huge role to research and education”

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Mark Rutte’s fourth government has promised Dutch academics that investments to tackle the workload are forthcoming, but while many agree that ‘normal’ funding levels are needed, debates on how to get there have barely started.

Almost nine months after the elections, record-breaking talks between the centrist and center-right parties, dominated by Mr. Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, were concluded on December 15 with an agreement coalition.

Concrete spending pledges include a one-time € 5bn (£ 4.2bn) fund for ‘free and untied’ research and development over the next decade, € 700m per year for higher education and research, and 6.7 billion euros for economic growth, a fund refocused on knowledge, innovation and R&D.

In addition to these specificities, the Universities of the Netherlands (UvN), which represent the country’s 14 research universities, welcomed the agreement’s broader references to building a “knowledge-based economy”.

“This gives research, innovation and education a huge role in societal challenges and transitions, and I think this is really a big step forward,” said Pieter Duisenberg, president of the ‘UvN.

The deal will also resurrect universal scholarships for students from 2023, which were halted in 2015. Separate and income-dependent scholarships will continue to be offered, and € 1 billion is set aside to pay a discount on debt or education bonds for those who defaulted on universal grants.

“We are deviating a bit from the position of the previous government on some issues, we are seeing a relaxation of the more market-oriented policies we saw in higher education in the early 2000s,” said Ben Jongbloed, a researcher. at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente.

But despite these numbers, much of the spending details remain unclear. “This coalition agreement is more conceptual, less specific than what we were used to. There is still a long way to go, ”said Duisenberg.

Like the agreement itself, these details will be decided through the uniquely Dutch ‘polder model’ of consensus-based policy making. University associations, unions and other interested parties are awaiting an invitation from a still-unknown Minister of Education to reach a low-key consensus from mid-January.

The talks will build on the coalition’s promises of a “better balance” between guaranteed funding for universities and that competitively awarded through research agency projects, with the aim of “creating more funding for universities. space to deal with work pressure ‘for academics and to offer more permanent contracts.

The last Rutte government said pressure at work was a problem for universities and unions to fight each other, prompting these traditional antagonists to jointly campaign for an annual investment of € 1.1 billion to help reduce workloads in April 2021. But despite this unity, there are divisions on whether the coalition agreement hits the target.

Mr Duisenberg was positive, saying the € 5 billion fund and € 700 million for research amount to € 1.2 billion per year. “I have to be careful, because we still have to figure out how this is going to work, but it gives a real and firm perspective on a ‘normal academic level’,” he said, referring to the UvN campaign title on the publish.

“The problem is, some of the bigger sums of money are quite loosely stated,” said Marijtje Jongsma, AOb union board member and professor at Radboud University, both involved in the campaign. . “That depends on [how you look at it] if in fact you see an opportunity or if you get a little skeptical, ”she said.

Others outside the cartel were also suspicious. “It seems very vague on what he’s actually going to be invested in; if they say ‘free and unrelated research and development’, I don’t see the word teaching in there, ”said Dennis Jansen, doctoral student at Utrecht University and member of the campaign group 0.7, appointed to after the, part-time contracts held by many teachers.

The 36 Dutch universities of applied sciences have their own requirements, such as 240 million euros per year for practice-oriented research to inform the professional courses they offer, for example on greater use of robots and remote care by nurses.

“All these investments are quite urgent when you look at the situation in the Netherlands”, said Maurice Limmen, who heads the association of 36, referring to national needs for lifelong learning and training. teachers.

Professor Jongsma said the Education Ministry is currently hiring staff to flesh out policies with interested parties.

“Obviously we have to take the time to work our way towards a good consensus, but let’s not delay too long,” said Mr Limmen.

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