Dear Staff and Students,
The Board of the University of Groningen read with interest the open letter from academic and administrative staff published on 8 May in the University Paper (UK), in which they expressed concerns about the future of academic teaching and research. The Board recognizes the points raised in the letter and shares the concerns, which apply to a significant degree to the entire Dutch university world.
We accept with pleasure the invitation to discuss these concerns. In the February meeting of the University Council we already made a number of promises in response to several suggestions for improvement made by the student and staff parties concerning the effectiveness of consultative participation and the transparency of the management. We also indicated that we are definitely in favour of engaging in discussion with students and staff and explicitly invited them to do so.
Universities have been faced with significant increases in student numbers for many years. From a societal point of view we consider this a positive development, but we are one with the signatories of the letter about being critical of the government’s funding model, which has resulted in the contribution per student gradually decreasing. This has caused difficulties in recruiting sufficient academic and administrative staff, and the inevitable result has been increasing staff workload. The Board shares these concerns and is very aware of the consequences. This is why the University is agitating for a realistic funding model. The VSNU and the University are doing their best to draw this to the attention of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and the House of Representatives.
Complaints about increased bureaucracy and the related work pressure are familiar to the Board. Supervision and responsibility have in our opinion gone too far and resulted in too much administrative hassle. The introduction of institutional accreditation without first abolishing the extensive degree programme accreditation process is a good example of this. Together with the other universities, the Board wants to move towards a system based more on trust. We are currently in discussions about this with the Minister of OCW and with NVAO, the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders.
The ratio between permanent and temporary staff has got worse in recent years, among other things due to the performance agreements that have made part of the government funding uncertain. We are thus also in full agreement on this point. Incidentally, the new CAO (Collective Labour Agreement) for Dutch Universities includes agreements to reduce the percentage of temporary appointments. In addition, the University is investing € 35 million in improving Master’s degree programmes via the investment agenda. This should lead to 100 additional permanent posts. The faculties have submitted proposals concerning this and the Board has adopted them. Finally, the University wants to invest all the extra money (about € 20 million a year) that will become available from 2018 via the student loan system in permanent jobs. Neither we nor the VSNU want to make performance agreements about this with the Ministry of OCW.
The open letter states that there is too much top-down management of the University. We agree with you that the developments mentioned above, for example the performance agreements and the institutional accreditation, have led to a more intensive role for the governing body. However, where possible the duties and responsibilities in the field of teaching and research have been delegated to where they belong: with the faculties and service units. Agreements about this, and also in relation to the related consultative participation, have been made with the University Council. Another point made was that the development of the societal themes was also being approached top-down. However, these are consistently initiatives proposed by the academic staff which are being supported by the Board so that a multidisciplinary approach is possible. If this point is intended to imply that the University should not become involved in this kind of societal issue, then we will have to agree to differ.
As stated above, the Board will be delighted to discuss matters with the signatories of the open letter and with the University of Groningen community. We share your concerns and feel responsible for ensuring that we work on a sustainable, democratic and contemporary university model together with everyone involved. The academic culture and the quality of teaching and research are naturally the most important issues.
We will shortly be contacting the concerned staff members to arrange a meeting.
New elections for the consultative participation bodies at the University will be held soon. We really appreciate the united contribution from staff and students to these bodies and call on all of you to make your voices heard. A good turnout for the elections is important support for those who are prepared to invest their valuable time in these consultative participation activities.
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