Dijkgraaf: ‘No tough agreements with universities on fixed contracts’

Last week, Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf released 300 million euros, among other things to help university lecturers with a permanent contract. He does not want to make fixed agreements to combat the high proportion of flexible contracts in university education – also in other positions. AOb wants these agreements.

It remains special, a world-renowned physicist entering politics. From mathematical models describing the smallest particles to the messy reality of The Hague. “I have lived in science, but I now look at it from a bird’s perspective,” said Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf. “I am dealing with many more parties, such as my colleagues in the Cabinet, other ministries and the House of Representatives.”

You have just set out a new course for higher education and research that is worth billions of euros. How did you make those decisions?

‘There was also a certain budget available for that policy, about a billion a year, and there were all sorts of reports and wishes. So have a chat and get ideas. I always say: As a minister, you are in the least comfortable position: you experience all the forces and opposing forces, and that is good. ”

Particularly striking is the 300 million euros a year in working capital for researchers, half of which is for university lecturers who get a permanent contract.

“It is an incentive for universities to offer young teachers (usually aged 30 to 40; ed.) Permanent positions. We want more peace and space for teachers who have little or no research time. And in that way we can also relieve the workload. ”

But aren’t it primarily postdocs who get one temporary contract after another?

“These postdocs want a permanent contract, and that is possible if they become university lecturers. So there should also be more university teachers. ”

Wouldn’t it be better to ‘demand’ permanent jobs instead of ‘inciting’ them?

Dijkgraaf smiles. “We will also deliver more permanent contracts through sectoral plans.” He also allocates 200 million euros a year to the ‘sectoral plans’ in all kinds of disciplines. The universities enter into agreements on education and research in subjects such as the humanities or natural sciences, in order to avoid duplication and complement each other.

How do these sectoral plans lead to more permanent jobs?

“We have to make administrative agreements about it with the universities, and we have to monitor it very precisely. We want to involve the groups that have made us aware of the need for permanent contracts. ”

‘There will be no hard numbers in the agreements’

But you are not going to use target numbers?

“We will explicitly state our wish. There will be no hard numbers in the agreements, but we will ask a committee to oversee.”

You said recently that universities and colleges should actually function as one institution. What do you mean?

“We have come a long way in that in the Netherlands. The Netherlands are really surprisingly good at working together. We easily involve colleagues in our work. In America, it’s different. There I saw that institutions were sometimes a few kilometers apart and began to compete with each other on the same subject. Thanks to our good cooperation, we can compete with other countries. There is no field of science that we can not keep up with. But not everyone knows everything. You do not all have to keep all the plates in the air, so make agreements about it. “

Can you give an example of courses or departments that are currently located in many places?

“No, I do not want to say that now. But I myself have seen how sector plans in physics and chemistry have helped. It gives a university the freedom to do more in one area – let’s say organic chemistry – and leave another subject to another university. ”

‘HBO has a key position’

Universities attract too many students, universities of applied sciences are facing shrinkage in the region. Can the universities used not offer university education in the shrinking regions?

After the summer, I will start exploring: what exactly is the role of each type of education? HBO occupies a key position due to the close connection to the labor market and the depth that the educations offer. ”

Is a new university in a shrinking region an option? In the past, high schools have also become universities.

“The universities used now receive 100 million euros a year to develop practical research. The aim is to further develop higher professional education research and to make education more innovative. That is why, for example, we are starting with the professional doctorate in HBO (the HBO variant of the scientific promotion; ed.). ”

‘There are many partitions in MBOs and higher education’

What options do you want to explore after the summer?

“There are many partitions in MBOs and higher education. Can we take some of them out and start from the paths of the individual students? I want to look at that. At least I think we should see MBO, HBO and WO as a fan, and not create a hierarchy. I myself also switched from scientific education to higher professional education when I went to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. It was not a step down, but a step aside. “

Students complain of stress and pressure to perform. For this reason, your predecessor wanted to limit the binding study counseling. What will you do?

“We need to see if we can move the binding study council to the second year, so that the students have more time. That seems reasonable to me. I am shocked by the performance pressure, the mental problems, the stress and the insecurity that the students experience that they tell me about in conversations. We have to be careful, as a society we can not put unlimited pressure on our students. ”

Where do you think that pressure comes from?

“We have an education system that is unique in the world: it is accessible and it is of high quality. I sometimes thought: why does the whole world not do as we do? But there is an overpressure with teachers who no longer have time for their research and students who need to complete their education as soon as possible. Part of that is peer pressure. Society puts pressure on you and it gets into your own head and eventually you drive yourself crazy. It is also my job to say: Can things calm down? In my plans, it is also about the well-being of the students: it must be given higher priority. ”

Ministers ‘call’ and ‘encourage’ so often.

“The institutions are autonomous, and you have to create things from scratch, but in my policy I definitely take responsibility at the national level. Take, for example, knowledge security: It is very unwise for any research group to reinvent the wheel themselves. We need some form of national dike monitoring. ”

You recently withdrew the law that gives universities more control over the influx of foreign students.

‘The same goes for it. I can fill the toolbox, and then any farmer can maintain his own piece of the dike, but the dike is not yet guarded. We must have a national view of internationalization: what do we all want? That look is still missing. I also talk to the universities about short-term solutions. ”

AOb: ‘Structural tasks = permanent work’

Next Thursday, the House of Representatives will debate with Minister Dijkgraaf on the distribution of investments in higher education. Douwe van der Zweep, Director of Higher Education at AOb: “The working conditions for researchers and teachers with a temporary contract constitute a violation of job security, career opportunities and social security. It also contributes to a sky-high workload in the form of unpaid structural overtime. AOb also believes that it is the responsibility of the government to solve these problems by allocating the investments to the right destination and enforcing them if necessary. This requires an explicit link between research and education.
Establishment grants and incentive grants temporarily awarded to certain categories of scientists mean that scientists focus only on research and (almost) no teaching assignments. Structural teaching tasks are then handled permanently by universities with temporary employment contracts. This development must be stopped. This is not only in breach of European rules on employment contracts, but also with the basic principles of good employment practice: structural tasks = permanent work. “

Check out the letter that AOb sent to the education rapporteurs in the House of Representatives.

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