The university is heading for a persistent deficit because the government does not fund the increase in the number of students in full. Director Tijs Breukink thinks it would therefore not be a good idea to invest in teaching buildings at De Dreijen.
We could make more efficient use of the campus instead. He advocates an extension of lecture hours, for example with evening lectures. The university continues to grow, but the Ministry of Economic Affairs only pays part of the increased costs. That means the university is missing out on about nine million euros a year, says Tijs Breukink, the Executive Board member responsible for finance and accommodation. That is one reason why Wageningen University’s budget for 2015 shows a shortfall of three million euros. If nothing is done, that deficit will increase to almost six million next year.
‘So far, we have compensated the chair groups for the increasing teaching costs,’ says Breukink, ‘but we are not getting that money back from the government. So we’re getting squeezed.’ The Executive Board is therefore looking at where it can make savings. First, Breukink wants to reconsider the investment in teaching facilities at De Dreijen. Last year, the board considered putting the site back to use to absorb the growing numbers of students. That idea was based on ‘linear thinking’: every additional 1000 students costs the university x additional lecturers, y additional classrooms and z additional computers.
Breukink wants an end to linear thinking. He is looking for cheaper ways of coping with the growth in the student population. Breukink wants to minimize the investment in De Dreijen (the original estimate was 20 million euros, a later variant was 7 million euros) and make better use of the teaching facilities on campus instead. At present, lectures are timetabled between 8.30 am and 6 pm. Breukink is proposing an extension of, say, two hours a day. You could start earlier in the morning, make the lunch break shorter or introduce evening lectures. Another option is for the university to review the education funding model (known as the Brascamp model). At the moment, this model means that more students results in more lecturers for the chair group providing the teaching. ‘We still have a relatively small number of students per lecturer. The student-teacher ratio at other universities, including the technical universities, is higher than at Wageningen.’ Breukink is suggesting reducing the education funding contribution per student. ‘We need to look for ways of providing teaching that are cheaper but still let us maintain our high quality.’
Breukink wants lecturers and students to be open to discussing these options. ‘We can invest in bricks and mortar by doing up the Dreijen site but that will be at the expense of teaching and it is also completely at odds with the campus concept.’
Photo: Guy Ackermans