COVID-19: UM to receive extra millions for students’ well-being, education and temporary researchers

COVID-19: UM to receive extra millions for students’ well-being, education and temporary researchers

“We must be honest, it will not solve everything”

20-05-2021

MAASTRICHT. COVID-19 measures have cost education a lot, also the universities and their students. The cabinet wants to compensate them. Maastricht University is to receive a total of about 19.5 million extra from the National Education Programme, (Nationaal Programma Onderwijs) over the coming two years. Faculties must have their initial plans of how they intend to spend the money ready before the summer.

The Ministers of Education Van Engelshoven and Slob presented the Nationaal Programma Onderwijs (NPO) last February: a support package of 8.5 billion for the whole of Dutch education, from primary schools to universities. With this, they hope to take care of most of the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that the UM will receive about 19.5 million: 13.5 million to deal with the delays in research and almost 6 million for education and student supervision. The final decision will be taken at the end of May, with the signing of the board agreements.

There are plenty of needs. For example, the students who had to attend the majority of their tutorial group meetings and lectures sitting at their computers this academic year. Some of them suffered a delay and that is why all students will receive a reduction of 50 per cent on their legal tuition fees in September: € 1,084. Those who pay the much higher institutional tuition fees, will receive the same amount (€ 1,084) as a reduction. 

Because lower tuition fees have a direct impact on the funds of universities and universities of applied sciences, the institutes will be compensated. The UM will receive (in addition to the abovementioned 19.5 million) 21 million over the next two years. “We expect a hundred per cent compensation,” said the director of Finance, Ruud Bollen, to the University Council’s Education and Research Committee last week. The money will be immediately and proportionally sent on to the faculties.

Temporary contracts

Scientists too, mainly those with temporary contracts such as PhD candidates and postdocs, felt the squeeze of COVID-19. Fieldwork was postponed, most laboratories were closed, resulting in their research suffering delays. They were given an extension. The UM will receive almost 13.5 million for two years. The largest portion will go to the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences conglomerate and the hospital (together MUMC+). “This was predetermined by the ministry. The rest of the amount will go to the other faculties, based on the number of temporary contracts,” said Bollen. He pointed out that the money cannot be spent freely, it is solely meant for temporary personnel.  

Along with that, there is still a total of more than 1.4 million available to appoint extra teaching staff in 2021 and 2022. This will be divided up over the faculties in proportion to the student numbers.

Students’ well-being

There is a total of 3.4 million available to support the students (for 2021 and 2022) with extra help. The plans – on a faculty and central level – for this have almost been finalised, said Mieke Jansen, team leader of – among others – the psychological counsellors for students, to the council members. Also, almost a million has been reserved to compensate medical students for their missed internships.

Financial need

Could we not also use the money to help students in financial need, committee chairperson Jenny Schell and student council member Thomas Vaessen wondered. For example, because they have lost their student jobs? That is not possible, the rules on how the money must be spent are very strict, said Bollen. “We would love to use it in various areas, but that is not allowed,” rector Rianne Letschert added. “We are looking into it to see if we can do something, especially for non-EU students. But we are limited in our options. A lot is simply not allowed, as it concerns public money.”

And will the lecturer on the work floor notice any of all this, Schell asked the rector. Letschert: “Yes, that is the whole idea, faculties are now making plans on how to apply these means. But we also have to be honest, it will not solve everything.”

Tremendous growth in the number of students

Aside from the NPO funds, the UM will receive another 11 million extra from the ministry this year to cope with the tremendous growth of students in September 2020. This concerns a structural amount, the reference estimate, which is transferred annually.