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UM budget: uncertain future because of Van Rijn committee

MAASTRICHT. Maastricht University will end up in the red in 2020, but there is no need to panic. The six million shortage - coming from the reserves - is meant for investments already planned for new bachelor’s and master’s programmes, IT upgrades and housing.

Next year, the total budget will be almost half a billion (474 million). In the short term, there is nothing to lose sleep over, says Ruud Bollen, director of Finance, last week during an extra meeting of the University Council. Regular spending does not exceed the income, but the UM will be in the red because savings are being drained for planned investments. Things like the development of science and technology within the Faculty of Science and Engineering, the new bachelor's programmes of Digital Society (started in September 2019 at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and Global Studies (a UM-wide programme due to start in September 2020), as well as faculty investment plans. Moreover, major investments are being made in accommodation, because of the growth of students numbers and research.

For the long term (from 2022 onwards), the prospects are less clear, Bollen explained. That is when the Van Rijn committee, which is taking money from general universities in favour of the three technical universities as well as Wageningen, will play a role, but its exact effect is still unclear. “We are making assumptions,” says Bollen. The UM is assuming a negative effect of 2 per cent from the government grant, or 5.3 million euro. But there are some “rays of hope”. Students numbers are still rising, which means that the market share is increasing and more government money will end up with the UM. The Minister of Education will also have to cough up more euros because of the national growth of the number of students. Moreover, the Van Rijn committee has recommended that 100 million from the indirect government funding (research financer NWO) be transferred to the direct government funding. “We expect our fair share from this.”

In addition, there is still the investigation into the cost per study programme that a commercial bureau, commissioned by the minister, is going to carry out, accompanied by a committee consisting of Luc Soete (professor and former UM rector), José van Dijck (professor, former chairperson for KNAW and former scientific employee at FASoS), and Marjanne Sint (manager and former party chairperson for PvdA). This could also have consequences - positive or negative - for the UM’s funding.

Counting all the pluses and minuses, you will see that the provisional perspective in the development of the government contribution in the years 2020-2024 remains positive. “But without Van Rijn, it would have been much more positive.” With all kinds of investments in buildings, lowering the work pressure, improvements in education, et cetera, the reserves - currently standing at about 140 million - will be considerably depleted. It is a good thing that these are to be reduced, said Bollen, because the ministry feels that these reserves throughout higher education are rather high. 

The subject of the budget was on the University Council's agenda last Wednesday after Observant had gone to press.





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