24 June 2019

UM response to white paper on Van Rijn Committee report

UM has read the government's response to the Van Rijn Committee report with extremely mixed feelings. Facing draconian budget cuts under the Van Rijn proposal, running up to more than 14 million euros, UM finds some reassurance in the fact that the government has averted this disaster by limiting the cutbacks to a maximum of 2% of government funding. But the Executive Board also regards the proposed cutbacks to the tune of 5 million euros as highly undesirable in terms of content and financial impact.

The main bulk of the UM budget is fixed; it is needed to maintain the quality of our regular education and research. In addition, we have a modest budget for innovation. Evidently, it is essential to ensure that we prevent the austerity measures from going at the expense of our innovative power. Maastricht University wishes to stress that the knowledge industry - one of the strong points of the Netherlands economy - consists of more than just science and technology. The Van Rijn Committee report and the government response to it seem to be primarily a short-term technocratic solution and unfortunately lack vision and ambition.

UM will continue to implement its strategy in the coming years while ensuring that the organisation will not suffer too much from the imposed cutbacks.

The proposal and its consequences in brief

The Van Rijn Committee advises the minister to reallocate parts of the higher education budget to science and technology education, as these areas are expected to face large labour market shortages in the coming years. Under its proposal, UM will have to cut back more than five million euros a year on a structural basis, starting from 2022. A total of one hundred million euros will be earmarked annually for science and technology education. The measures will have a negative impact on universities with a small share of science and technology students, such as UM.

The government should invest in broad-based knowledge

UM understands the need for additional financing of science and technology education, but regrets that this investment will be taken from the existing budget. Why doesn’t the government invest in knowledge in general? After all, the humanities, social sciences and life sciences are making an enormous contribution to the Netherlands’ knowledge economy ('Nederland Kennisland'). UM is an innovative university which continuously adapts to the wishes and challenges from the region. And that region is international.

Need for foreign students and knowledge workers

For this reason, UM is surprised to learn that the Van Rijn Committee and the minister regard the recruitment of international students exclusively as a negative and perverse incentive, while what’s at stake is nothing less than the future of the Netherlands. The minister rightly concludes that the looming shortages in science and technology graduates, among others, will cause major problems in the Netherlands. But given current growth rates, we won’t be able to solve these problems by relying on Dutch students only. UM is convinced that the Dutch economy will continue to need an influx of highly educated talent from abroad.

Unfair ‘fixed basic subsidy rates’ not addressed by the minister either

Finally, the UM Executive Board finds it incomprehensible that the minister has again failed to address the substantially lower fixed basic subsidy rates assigned to institutions for research purposes (‘vaste voet onderzoek’). No one can explain why there should be such huge differences in research funding for universities.

Being a young university, UM has received a lower rate than other universities for many years. Within an academic environment where education and research are intertwined, low research funding reduces both the resources and opportunities for improving education. The minister is talking about balanced funding, but once again fails to take this unjustified differentiation into account. UM supports more collaboration, transparency and building up a strong presence, but feels this should be rooted in a clear ambition to further develop the Netherlands’ knowledge economy.