News - September 11, 2014

Breukink: ‘We cannot afford growth anymore’

Albert Sikkema

The university is threatened with a budget shortfall because the ministry of Economic Affairs does not cover all the extra costs arising from its growth. The shortfall amounts to 100 million euros over the coming years.

Wageningen education programmes are not in grave danger, but the prognoses do suggest a looming problem, as is clear from the analysis of Tijs Breukink, the member of the executive board responsible for financial policy. The university has been growing apace – student numbers in Wageningen have doubled in the last eight years. This brought in additional funding from The Hague, but there are limits to that income growth. The ministry of Economic Affairs’ contribution neither goes up nor goes down by more than 2 percent compared to the previous year. 

Thanks to this rule, the growth of the university is not sufficiently reflected in the government contribution to its funding. ‘This year we miss out on 8 million euros because of that,’ says Breukink. ‘Initial indications of the government contribution for 2015 show that this shortfall is going to grow. Next year it will probably be 9 million. In the coming 10 years we shall be short of a total of about 100 million euros.’

The funding rules date back 13 years to the period in which the university still faced falling student numbers and the then ministry of Agriculture wanted to protect its university from decline. ‘But we never benefitted from that arrangement,’ says Breukink. ‘The shrinkage then turned out to be limited and after that we began to grow fast.’ Wageningen is the only university with this kind of arrangement. For the other universities, funded by the ministry of Education, there is a cost-sharing model without the 2 percent ceiling. 

In the black

Breukink expects student numbers at Wageningen to go on growing from almost 10,000 now to about 15,000 in 10 years’ time. This will push up education costs, which the university currently covers completely for the science groups. In the last seven years, this pushed the university’s education budget up from 40 to 60 million, says Breukink. 

But even though the ministry does not fully fund these rising education costs, this is not creating problems yet: the university ended the year just in the black. This is because the board has had an eye to efficiency, says Breukink. The concentration of facilities on campus prevented overhead costs from rising with the demand for education. But Breukink does forecast big problems in the coming years. 

‘It is frustrating that we are not rewarded for our success,’ he says. ‘Wageningen is grappling with the big social issues, and students have discovered us. Don’t we honour that as a society? I want to see Wageningen University being treated the same way as the other universities, when it comes to funding. Otherwise we cannot afford the growth anymore.’