Science - September 22, 2011

Increasing number of managers at universities

Universities' overhead is 31 percent, not 25 percent. More PR staff and managers have been taken on over the past few years than researchers and lecturers.

These claims are made by the Promovendus.org campaign group on the basis of data about employees of Dutch universities. The number of PR officers has grown by 34 percent since 2005, and managers by 21 percent.
The increase in academic staff was much more modest. The number of professors grew by only 16.5 percent and the number of PhD researchers by 11 percent. All these figures are on the basis of full-time equivalents.

The campaign group is circulating the figures in protest at the plan to treat PhD researchers as students rather than employees. Then universities would only have to pay them a bursary and not be liable for various employers' contributions such as pension contributions.

PhD researchers are not pleased with this and have been conducting a legal battle against the bursary system for years with the support of the trade union AbvaKabo. According to the campaign group, the universities would be better off making cuts in the number of managers and PR officers rather than economizing on the youngest generation of academics. They also warn that the formal overhead will be a lot higher (38 percent) if the PhD researchers are no longer counted as part of the academic staff.

That is considerably more than the 25 percent overhead State Secretary Zijlstra mentioned in the spring, which he already said was too high. The overhead had fallen to 24.8 percent according to the accountancy firm Berenschot, but the PhD researchers say this figure does not hold water.

They do not include all the teaching and research support staff in the overhead: anyone supporting research or teaching is excluded. But the PhD researchers say administrative staff, secretaries, health and safety staff, IT, managers, information officers and HR staff do all fall in the category of overhead.

That is the line taken by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who summed up what is considered overhead in his answer to Parliamentary questions: the executive board and line managers, HRM, finance and control, IT, marketing and communication, facility services, legal affairs and secretarial offices.

The association of universities was not yet able to comment.

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