Organisation - April 7, 2010

Government officers propose cuts on student and DLO expenditures

Government working committees have proposed big cuts in study loans and applied research in an attempt to slash public sector expenditures by twenty percent. The research universities have managed to come through all right, whereas the applied sciences universities will fare a little badly.

The committees have packaged their cost-cutting measures into two or three scenarios from which the political parties can choose before and after the House of Representatives elections. For example, big cuts in education expenditures can be made by turning the basic study grant into a loan or by raising tuition fees sharply. The government officers have also proposed to save 200 million euros on the public transport student concession card.
The research universities and applied sciences universities have been spared, except for a recommended 'productivity cut' of 1 percent in the teaching salaries; this amounts to a total of 200 million euros for all universities and applied sciences universities taken as a whole.
'The universities can bear with that', says Simon Vink, spokesman for Wageningen UR. Teaching salaries make up about forty percent of expenditure at Wageningen University; this gives a reduction percentage of a mere 0.4 percent. For VHL, however, this would be a 1 percent cut. In addition, the universities and applied sciences universities have to lower overheads to 25 percent of their total budget or less. 'Wageningen University already has a lower percentage than that, whereas VHL would have to tighten its belt.'
In any case, Vink feels that education suffers quite a setback in the recommendations. 'The students will be the hardest hit in these cost-savings.' He considers this 'disturbing' and hopes that the accessibility of higher education would not be endangered should the new cabinet carry out the recommendations. The political parties can, in fact, be selective when shopping among the government proposals to come up with their own cost-cutting packages.
It is unclear how these government proposals will affect DLO and commissioned research. Vink ventures to describe the situation as being in 'stormy weather'. The Dutch knowledge institutes - besides DLO, these include TNO and the top institutes - will get a stipulated cut of ten percent. 'But it's not clear where the baseline lies', says Vink. 'DLO is at the centre of a cost-cutting operation of 14 million euros now being undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. We assume that we are already exercising the proposed ten percent cut.'
It is unclear if another similar cut will be imposed, because the working committee has postulated several scenarios, the details of which are still vague. The overall picture for strategic and applied research is in fact 'disquieting', says Vink. The executive board has responded with a memo to the House of Representatives stressing once again the importance of an innovative agro-food sector for the Dutch economy. 'This importance is evident: twenty percent of the export value in the Netherlands come from food substances. This could be easily overlooked during the elections.'