Leading researchers see a ‘violation of trust in science’ in the new government’s austerity plan

Leading researchers see a ‘violation of trust in science’ in the new government’s austerity plan

Leading scientists warn that 1,200 young scientists newly recruited to universities are at risk of being sacked from their jobs as a result of the government’s new austerity plans. These are university lecturers who have just secured a permanent contract to teach and conduct research in the last two years. The aim was to reduce the increasing workload at universities and allow the Netherlands to maintain its first place in the world in innovation and research. The previous government had allocated 215 million euros annually for this purpose, money to create 1,200 job opportunities and, for example, purchase quantum computers and laboratory equipment.

The Spinoza and Stephen Laureates Association warned in an open letter, signed by about eighty laureates, that the cuts would have negative consequences for earning capacity in the Netherlands. The Spinoza and Stephen Prizes are considered the most important scientific awards in the Netherlands. The association speaks of a “massive breach of trust” between science and politics, because jobs have been created in recent years in consultation with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW).

The cuts cannot be read immediately from the main agreement of the new government coalition. The budget annex contains an “adjustment” (Hague term for cuts) to “higher education sector plans” of €215 million per year from 2026 onwards. “In recent years, choices have been made by scientific field, and by sector, regarding the most promising areas of research in which the Netherlands would like to invest in the coming decades,” explains Prof. Dr. Peter Hagoort, President of the Association. . The research will focus, among other things, on developing new medicines, solutions to climate issues facing the Netherlands, applying artificial intelligence in medical science and solving psychological problems in young people. “These are all important challenges for our society,” says Hagoort. The Ministry allocated a budget for these joint plans, with an agreement to appoint 1,200 young scientists. “This would give universities sufficient capacity to achieve breakthroughs in research.”

procedures

The cancellation of sector plans is not the only cuts in science and higher education announced by the new government. The government wants to cut the total by nearly a billion euros, including by reducing the influx of international students (which should ultimately generate 293 million euros annually). In addition, the government wants to increase tuition fees for students who take longer to complete their studies than “stated” for their studies and reduce the state grant to the universities they attend (a discount of up to 282 million euros per year). Significant cuts were also announced in two funds from which scientific research is funded: the Research and Science Fund (minus $150 million annually) and the National Growth Fund (to be closed immediately).

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“If the Netherlands wants to maintain its position as an innovative country, it must act now.”

The plans contained in the framework agreement could still be amended in the final coalition agreement. This will be completed after the so-called founding consultation, during which all ministers nominated for the new government will meet for the first time.

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the Universities Netherlands (UNL) and other partners in the so-called Knowledge Alliance, the PVV and VVD alliance, called on the National Security Council and the BBB to reconsider the cuts. They fear that otherwise there will be more layoffs. Not only in universities, but also in higher professional education, where research is also conducted. They want to talk to potential Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ebo Bruins. He could still try to take the budget cuts included in the mainline agreement off the table.

The National Student Union (LSVb) is organizing a demonstration against a late student fine in Utrecht next Saturday. WOinActie, a platform that brings together scientists from Dutch universities, is also preparing the measures, in cooperation with the trade unions AOb and FNV. “The cuts are equivalent to the closure of a large Dutch university,” says scientist Reince Bode on behalf of WOinActie. “New teachers, doctors, judges and engineers are being trained at universities and higher vocational education, all professions where there is a shortage of people. If the cuts continue, the education of 300,000 young people in the Netherlands will be at risk.” He is upset about universities anticipating the government’s plans, such as the University of Victoria. In Amsterdam, which is talking internally about additional cuts, or the University of Groningen, which has decided to freeze vacancies, “universities should not lie on their backs now.”

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Exit

Marilyn Dogterum, president of the association, calls it “sickening” that there are 1,200 permanent contracts at risk of being lost at universities, which “were created specifically because there was a lot of political criticism of all those temporary contracts, which created a lot of uncertainty.” ” She wonders whether the coalition parties have realized that there are concrete functions behind the term “sectoral plans”. There was nothing about this in the main agreement. I would like to know what is the reason behind this reduction.” She would also like to discuss the cuts in the two research funds with Minister Bruins. “This affects the innovation capacity and business climate in the Netherlands. Bruins was chairman of the Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Board, so he knows well what is at stake.

According to Marcel Levy, president of the NWO and the Knowledge Alliance, a partnership between science and business, the cuts conflict with the alliance’s own plans. “What I don’t understand is that the main agreement talks about promoting the knowledge and innovation economy,” he says. “This runs counter to the cuts. Within the EU, the Netherlands has agreed to invest 3% of GDP in R&D by 2030, but we are not on track and that target is out of sight with these cuts. He warns that the Netherlands faces the risk of Talented employees will soon choose other countries and that companies will no longer invest in the Netherlands “If we want to maintain our level of prosperity, we must continue to engage with the rest of the world.”

The question is whether reversing contracts is legally possible

Caspar van den Berg
President of UNL

Universities in the Netherlands are questioning the legal sustainability of cuts in sector plans, says Caspar van den Berg, who took over as chairman of the board on June 1. “Under the Rutte IV regime, long-term agreements were made between the central government and the universities. Now the government wants to reverse that. The ink on those 1,200 contracts has just dried. The question is whether such a reversal is legally possible from a good governance and government perspective.” Trustworthy.

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“woke culture”

Universities are “combatative,” says van den Berg, who in addition to being president of UNL is also a VVD senator. “We have a lot to lose. Similar budget cuts have led to the departure of top scientists in the UK and Denmark in recent years. This is now also at risk of happening in the Netherlands.”

The cuts appear to stem from dissatisfaction among at least part of the coalition over social engagement at universities, which has recently led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations and demands for universities to cut ties with Israeli research institutions. According to MP Reinder Blau, who speaks in Parliament on behalf of the Freedom Party on higher education, cuts to universities should put an end to the “focus on equal opportunity rather than quality” and “wake up the activist culture”. He said last Monday at the committee meeting. “About 970 million euros will be deducted from higher education. Only then will educational institutions be given the opportunity to reconsider their priorities. Do our educational institutions want political activism on the list or decent teaching and research?

Outgoing Minister Robert Dijkgraaf (D66) said last weekend Norwegian Refugee Council This situation struck him in the heart. “It feels like revenge. I find that hard to accept.”



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