Post three: Expected scale and impact of the investment
In our previous post we reflected on the autonomy of institutions – today we would like to talk about the investment plan of the strategic agenda.
The scale of investment is considerable, amounting to approximately € 800 million around the year 2025 (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 87). However, the government’s investments kick in only after a few years, while it is mainly the students and institutions that invest. Since this September, students no longer receive a basic grant, but the “Studievoorschot” which is mainly a loan to cover their expenses. The government will reinvest this “saving” into the quality of higher education, but cannot immediately do so as a consequence of the basic grant being a performance-related grant since 1996. The then minister Ritzen turned the basic grants into initial loans that only become a gift when students would obtain a degree. As student loans are non-relevant public spending and only become relevant when they are turned into a gift, the current government still has to turn many “old performance-related grants” into real gifts before one can start spending the revenues from the “Studievoorschot”. As such, the institutions are requested by the Minister to already initiate educational innovations to be funded in the coming years. The government will start seriously investing in a few years from 2018 onwards.
Source: Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 86-87
This of course brings along uncertainty, especially since a new government will come into place within this time period. Fortunately the economic forecast seems to be positive. The investment agenda (see Chapter 5 of the Strategic Agenda) portrays a high level of confidence that future cabinets will continue to invest to the same extent in terms of the quality of higher education. Experts expect that the budget in 2065 will be € 620 million per year of structural funds (Strategic Agenda 2015, p. 87).
Another question is to what extent an increase in quality can be expected from the proposed stimulus. A contribution of € 800 million and an additional 4000 FTE university teachers on a structural basis appears to be a considerable investment. It should result in over 12% more teachers. With about 40 higher education institutions that would be 100 extra teachers per institution on average. More precisely, this would change the student/staff ratio of 50-1 currently to 50-1.12. This means that the intensity of education can be increased only to a small extent.
It should be noted, that the additional capacity is also employed to realise a stronger connection between education and applied research. Thus only a portion of the funds can be spent on research with the freedom to choose the topic. Furthermore, it is envisaged to put in the extra capacity into ‘talent education’, where only a small proportion of the total student population will benefit from.
The Strategic Agenda wants (rightfully so) to invest into the professionalization of university teachers (Strategic Agenda 2015, p.46). This should also lead to new career paths for academics. At universities there is more emphasis on the dual function of the “teacher-researcher”, and academics that only conduct research will decrease in numbers. In addition, opportunities are created to climb the ladder up through a full educational career. In terms of education, this development seems to be positive, but the agenda fails to specify how this relates to the also desired excellence in research.
Whilst reading the Strategic Agenda, we are presented with a large number of initiatives to further shape the quality of education as reflected on in our previous post on Monday 28 September 2015. Through these initiatives institutions could and should contribute to the quality of higher education. In many cases it appears that the initiatives will benefit smaller groups of students and teachers, such as the Holland Scholarship, Comenius Scholarships for university teachers, or the honours programmes. The question is how the majority of students are going to profit from these developments and whether higher education institutions are going to invest in what the minister envisages. Come back on Thursday for our last post where we will discuss the regional and international aspects of higher education from the Strategic Agenda.