Science - February 19, 2004

University faces high budget deficits

Many heads of chair groups have watched their budgets with increasing amazement the past few weeks. A large number of chair groups are facing budget deficits of more than one hundred thousand euros this year. The directors of the five sciences groups point to the creation of new chairs, government cuts and increased housing costs as the most important causes.

“For some of the chair groups the deficit is so large that it is no longer within the realms of reality. The amounts are so absurdly high that you don’t know where to begin; everyone is astounded,” says Dr Wim Heijman, professor of regional economics and chairman of the joint representative advisory body. The size of the deficit varies a lot from group to group. Some, such as molecular biology, report no shortage, others say it is running into the hundreds of thousands.

The heads of the chair groups in the Environmental Sciences group recently sent a joint letter to their board of directors stating that they were facing a total budget deficit of 3.4 million euros. Director of the group, Wallie Hoogendoorn, says that not all the money has yet been distributed, but the total deficit is still likely to be two million euros, an average of about one hundred thousand per chair group. “There’s no denying that we have a problem, it’s a mega problem.”

‘If only I knew’

Many chair groups are not certain as to the cause of the money shortage. Causes mentioned include increased accommodation costs, education budget cuts, the disappearance of the budget for support staff and growing overhead costs in the sciences groups. Some are not even sure how big the deficit is that they are facing. “If only I knew,” sighs Lidwien van der Heyden, manager of the department of Human Nutrition, who has just received a new set of calculations. “We’d be a lot further if we did know.”

One of the reasons that the chair groups do not have a clear picture of the causes of the shortages is that the university has made radical changes in the distribution of the budget this year. The education budget is now divided up differently, on the basis of student numbers; housing costs previously paid at a central university level are now calculated separately for each chair group; the costs of the computer network have risen, and so on. The consequences of the changes vary depending on the chair group: one is more affected by housing costs, the other more by the new distribution of money for education costs.

The management directors of the sciences groups point to the fact that the budget has to be spread more thinly as a result of the creation of new chairs, and regard this as the most important cause of the deficit. There are eight new chairs proposed in the new chair plan, all of which will need money for education and research, meaning more chair groups over which the dwindling funds have to be spread. It is estimated that this will lead to a reduction of about 70,000 euros per existing chair group. Housing costs are calculated at an extra 20,000 euros per chair group, and there is about 25,000 euros less for education for each group. Which all adds up to at least 100,000 euros less per chair group.

Korné Versluis

Re:act