What the Norwegian Refugee Council thinks | Reducing reliance on science because of hatred is not a good idea

What the Norwegian Refugee Council thinks | Reducing reliance on science because of hatred is not a good idea

When a government announces cuts, this intention is rarely met with support from the affected sector. So it was not unexpected that universities protested when it became clear that the financial annex to the PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB mainline agreement included a cut of around €1 billion in spending on higher education and science.

The announced cuts are divided into three parts. The new government will eliminate €215 million from “higher education sector plans”, slow the flow of foreign students by an annual €293 million and reduce the state grant for students who take too long to complete their studies (€282 million).

The association of laureates of the Spinoza and Stevin Prizes – the highest Dutch academic awards – warned in an open letter that the cuts would have negative consequences for the Dutch earning capacity. The protest was most vocal on Saturday in Utrecht, where a demonstration took place against what attendees called the “long-study fine”. Since the universities will pass the discount on to the government contribution, the measure entails a significant increase in tuition fees for students who exceed the nominal study period by more than one year.

The Spinoza and Steffen laureates were primarily against cuts to the “Higher Education Sector Plans”. These were investments made by the last Rutte government that were intended to ease the workload at universities and give young scientists a chance to be hired. This was desperately needed. Over the past two years, around 1,200 people have been hired with this money. Their jobs are now at risk, as is the important research they would have done.

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The government is proving to be an unreliable partner here. Universities cannot implement a decent science and personnel policy if promised funding is withdrawn from one moment to the next. The new Minister for Education and Science, Ebo Bruins (NSC), gave a curious twist to the proposed cuts during the hearing. He said he wanted to prevent more scientists from entering than the system could handle, “because then you discover later that there is no place for you”. It is true that many academics find it difficult to build their careers, but it is ironic that this problem is being solved by hiring fewer young scientists.

Part of the new coalition suspects that the cuts are partly based on spite. According to MP Reinder Blauw (PVV), there is a “culture of active vigilantism” at Dutch universities that undermines scientific integrity, he said in a debate. The new agreement allows a change of course, according to Blauw, “away from the current ineffective policy.” He immediately had some suggestions for courses that could disappear.

Sometimes cutting back on higher education and science is unavoidable if public finances need to be regulated, but given the importance of innovation for the Dutch knowledge economy, this intervention should not be taken lightly. In any case, vindictiveness is no reason to use the pruning knife.

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