Organisation - October 11, 2017

Coalition agreement holds opportunities for WUR

Albert Sikkema

The new coalition agreement brings some good news for WUR. The transition to the Ministry of Education might lead to a higher contribution from the government. The new cabinet will also invest an additional 200 million euros in applied research.

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Green education will be transferred to the Ministry of Education, as per the coalition agreement of the third Rutte cabinet. This confirms the announcement of the Dutch House of Representatives dating from about 18 months ago. Such a transition could be positive for the university, if the ministry fully compensates for the increase in number of students in Wageningen.

The chances of that happening are significant, as the new cabinet wants to revise the funding system for higher education, ‘with specific focus on technical programmes’. The latter suggests that the universities of technology and WUR will receive a more significant part of the money pool. The cabinet wants to strengthen the link between the research at universities and research efforts, scientific quality and societal impact. ‘Special focus will be given to technical sciences and research groups that deal with high expenses.’

Besides this revision of direct funding, an impulse will also be given through additional research funding. The cabinet is increasing the budget for fundamental research as well as the budget for applied research and innovation by 200 million euros each. The cabinet will also make available two amounts of 50 million euros for research infrastructure. This will include expensive equipment and installations at institutes for applied research. Altogether, this means an additional half billion euros for research. The cabinet does specify that NWO should prioritise fundamental research.

Tuition fees
The basic study grant for students will not be reintroduced. However, starting from 2018, the cabinet will halve the tuition fee for the first year of education at universities and universities of applied sciences. The cabinet will also ensure that education remains accessible. The universities will have to thoroughly substantiate selection at the entrance of bachelor’s programmes; if they fail to do so, the Minister might block their decisions. The cabinet has also expressed worries concerning the selection for master’s programmes. They will develop regulations that should ensure ‘that the selection method is transparent, that higher education remains accessible and that all bachelor’s students can transfer to a programme within their own field of expertise.’

English programmes
The cabinet also wants to halt the growth of English programmes. They will be stricter with checking whether ‘the law that programmes should only be in English if this has added value, the quality is satisfactory and there are sufficient Dutch options available is complied with’. This means the WUR might have to once again substantiate the plan for English bachelor’s programmes with the Ministry of Education.

Research under contract
The agriculture section of the coalition agreement contains another point that could have positive impact on Wageningen Research. The new cabinet wants to change the Competitive Trading Act to explicitly allow for collaboration in agriculture and horticulture. Through this, the cabinet wants to declare sectoral agreements of professional associations universally applicable, such as money fundraisers for research. This would make it easier for WUR to perform research under contract for farmers and horticulturists.