Quality of education and research under pressure from drop in funding per student
When it comes to education and research, Dutch universities are among the best in the world. However, this position is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. Whereas other countries such as China and Germany are stepping up their investment, funding in the Netherlands is declining. Although the number of students has increased significantly (by a staggering 56% between 2000 and 2016) and students are increasingly opting for the more expensive science and technology programmes, recent governments have made repeated cuts to funding. As a result, government funding per student has fallen by 25%, from €19,900 in 2000 to €15,000 in 2016 (figures adjusted for 2016 price levels).
The decline continues, despite income from the student loan system
The Rutte II government has partially acknowledged the problem of the drop in funding per student. By consequence, the Student Loans (Higher Education) Act has arranged for the income from this system to be invested in education. However, the above graph shows that these investments will not reverse the downward trend: in the short term at least, the additional income will not outweigh earlier spending cuts. The graph gives a number of scenarios. It is clear how much additional investment is needed to restore government funding per student to previous levels.
Education and research under increasing pressure
The decline in government funding is not without consequences. Researchers and lecturers have had to pull out all the stops to maintain the current level of performance. However, there are clear signals that the system is under enormous strain. For that very reason, the VSNU and the unions reached an agreement earlier this year to reduce workloads, which are generally considered to be too high – partly due to the tight funding situation. Lecturers in science and technology subjects, which are experiencing enormous student growth, are also being expected to teach increasing numbers of students. In April 2017, the student union LSVb opened the Museum of Education Spending Cuts to protest the lack of funding. Like the VSNU, students can see that it is only a matter of time before the declining funding translates into diminished quality of education and reduced interconnectedness between education and research.