"There is too little money for too many students"

Action group WO in Actie is targeting new parliamentarians


MAASTRICHT. The statue of Fons Olterdissen on the Grote Looiersstraat and a group of professors and lecturers are wearing a red beret this Tuesday morning. Five in total, because they were not allowed to call to demonstrate because of corona. Action group WO in Actie calls for attention to the plight of higher education. The problem in short: “There is too little money for too many students,” say Harro van Lente and Lies Wesseling, both professors and initiators of the Maastricht campaign.

“The cabinet formation is in full swing. Now is the time to draw attention”, the duo says. There are actions all over the country today. In The Hague it is aimed at the new parliamentarians. There, a number of people from WO in Actie - including VSNU chairman Pieter Duisenberg - jump into the Hofvijver. The water is literally on their lips. They want a "normal academic level": a university with less work pressure and enough space to train students properly.

There is structural underfunding in academic education, says Wesseling. "Since 2000, the number of students has increased by 68 percent and funding per student decreased by 25 percent." Structurally more money is needed to rectify this. Not for a salary increase, Van Lente emphasizes. "But to ensure that we can offer students the level that we have, but not able to deliver now because there is no money."

Nowadays, compromises often have to be made. Van Lente: “The number of test moments or other feedback opportunities will go down. These are precisely times when students learn a lot. Self-tests can solve that a bit, but that is not the same as when there is contact with an experienced researcher.”

To solve these problems, 1.1 billion euros must therefore be added annually, say the professors. That amount did not come out of the blue, but was calculated by an independent research firm, PwC. “The financing must at least meet the European standard of 3 percent of the Gross National Product,” says Wesseling. “We are at 2.2 per cent now. We invest less than the countries around us, but we have to measure ourselves against them. For the time being that is going well because we continue to work in free hours, but that is not sustainable in the long term. ”

Science is a profession that gives a lot of satisfaction, says Van Lente. “But that is precisely our problem. There is so much credit among academic staff that we exploit ourselves and keep working in our spare time. It's that or sacrificing quality. ” Wesseling: "A great profession, but all those free hours and the pressure of work are things that spoil the job satisfaction."