Van Rijn Committee: quality WO at stake

15 mei 2019 – Students and lecturers are experiencing increasing pressure of study and work, there are signs that the balance between education and research is lost and the largely student-related funding can lead to a race to the bottom in terms of educational quality. This is stated in the report of Van Rijn Committee, which was commissioned by the Minister of Education to investigate the funding of higher education. VAWO certainly agrees with the problem analysis, but the trade union does have a number of reservations about the committee's recommendations.

Foggy funding system

The Commission states that a transparent examination of the actual costs is indispensable. It also implies that shifts in a distribution model can solve bottlenecks in one area but at the same time create new bottlenecks in other areas. The VAWO fully agrees with this. It is rightly stated that as long as there is no insight into the effects of shifts, you are basically distributing resources with your eyes closed. That is why it is all the more painful that a (considerable) shift towards beta technology is being proposed. VAWO considers this to be very unwise. Doing so now in a foggy funding system that is under pressure will inevitably cause problems. The government should focus on extra resources in STEM instead of realising these through a redistribution of existing resources.

The financial problems resulting from the redistribution are estimated at 70 million (a shift of 300 million for WO: academic education). It is suggested that there will soon be room for the 70 million in the Spring Memorandum, but that will remain a mere pretext. VAWO would have preferred to see a transparent inventory of costs and a (new) funding system before moving to the current distribution system. In a system that is already cracking at the seams, VAWO would not like to argue in favor of a soft landing, but for an unnoticeable landing: make sure that the intended shift is achieved gradually and with additional resources.

Transfer 100 million

The VAWO fully endorses Van Rijn Committee's recommendation to transfer 100 million from the NWO to the universities. However, there must remain room for young and stubborn talent who can obtain a personal subsidy without any embedding guarantee. The Commission has also suggested linking quality agreements to this 100 million, which is something that the VAWO has difficulty with. We would like to see this 100 million simply end up as a lump sum in the research part of the first flow of funding from the Universities. Only with a view to creating more permanent appointments, linking it to quality agreements is sensible.

Perverse incentive

Because the current funding model is a distribution model and not a funding model, it contains a perverse incentive in which universities are in competition for the market share of students. In order to reduce the excessive hunting for as many students as possible, this perverse incentive should be removed from the current distribution model. VAWO has been arguing in favor of this for some time now, but does have one comment to make: reducing a perverse incentive can also be counterproductive: the perverse effect of this may increase if the percentage decreases (we have seen the same effect by lowering the PhD premium: this has led to the need to deliver even more PhD candidates in order to obtain the same net result).

Utility thinking

When it comes to joining the labour market, the Commission is, unfortunately, too much guided by a sense of usefulness. Most of the jobs to be filled by the current cohort of schoolchildren probably do not even exist yet. For a rapidly changing labour market, it is important not only to have targeted (specialist) vocational training at both HBO and WO level, but also to have broad WO - academic study programs whose main objective is to train students to become independent critical thinkers who are able to acquire, reflect on, apply and/or disseminate their knowledge. This is not the same as vocational training. In short: knowledge specialists will continue to be needed more than ever in the future, even without a direct link between education and the labour market. With this rigid requirement, full higher education becomes vocational education if we are not careful. Both are necessary.