Organisation - November 9, 2010

State Secretary Zijlstra to lower top salaries

State Secretary Zijlstra intends to impose financial measures against universities whose top executives earn extremely high salaries.

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State Secretary of Education Halbe Zijlstra is determined to put an end to top salaries in higher education. Universities with executives earning above the so-called Balkenende standard can face a cut in state subsidy. This member from the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) made this known in an emergency debate on 3 November in the Dutch House of Representatives. Zijlstra also specifically named university top men in Groningen and Wageningen. According to him, administrators in education have to bear responsibilities 'in times when employees face wage freezes and students have to pay more for their Master's education'.
'Disproportionate'
Zijlstra wants to bring the salaries of education executives appointed since 2007 to below 226 thousand euros. He reasons that the Dijkstal commission sent a letter in 2007 to education institutions stating that the Balkenende standard should be upheld as the standard for maximum salaries from then on. That salary, according to Zijlstra, includes pension premiums, bonuses and other extra payments, amounting in 2009 to 226 thousand euros. 'Anything exceeding this amount will be considered as disproportionate and we will get it back.' 
Contract
According to Margreet de Boer, chairman of the Supervisory Board of Wageningen UR, the move proposed by the state secretary cannot be applied in the case of the Wageningen executives. 'Labour law is involved here. Two parties signed a contract years ago when the executives assumed their positions. One party simply can't have the pay lowered afterwards. Although the executives can be reappointed next year, the job contract is of a continuous nature in labour law.' It is not known if Zijlstra will accept this explanation.
Exception
The Wageningen executives consider themselves to be exceptions to the Balkenende standard, because in addition to being in charge of the university, they are also in charge of the DLO institutes and Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. Executive board chairman Dijkhuizen, for example, officially spends 46 per cent of his time on the university, 46 percent on DLO and 8 percent on VHL. Moreover, Wageningen UR, unlike the other universities, comes under the purview of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. Should this ministry follow Zijlstra, Wageningen UR would be in for a hefty cut. Dijkhuizen received 351 thousand euros last year, Kropff , 275 and Breukink, 262. If each of them should not earn more than the 226 thousand euros mentioned by the state secretary, a cut of more than 200,000 euros is imminent. (HOP, AS)

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