Policy summary: the Van Rijn report

On 15 May the Van Rijn committee presented its report to the Dutch House of Representatives. The committee, chaired by former state secretary Martin van Rijn, is more formally known as the advisory committee on the funding of higher education and research (Adviescommissie Bekostiging Hoger Onderwijs en Onderzoek).

The committee was installed in late October last year to make recommendations to the education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven on changes to the higher education funding system. Its report is 132 pages long, with four main chapters:

  1. On problems such as undesirable incentives regarding growth in student numbers, excessive competition between institutions, an increasing lack of balance between education and research, a mismatch between education and labour market needs and an outdated funding system
  2. Recommendations for an integrated approach to address these problems
  3. Phased redistribution of funds
  4. Long-term outlook

One of the main recommendations of the report is to make institutions less dependent on the number of enrolled students for their financing. At present, the more students a university has, the more money the university receives from the government. This is a ‘perverse mechanism’ that encourages institutions to attract as many students as possible, e.g. by constantly launching new (especially English-taught) programmes. This has led to an explosive growth in student numbers, meaning each student gets less attention and intake limits see applicants tuned away. Lecturers, for their part, experience high work pressure and their research suffers because the proportion of teaching and research activities is thrown out of balance. The committee therefore recommends reducing the variable, student-based part of the budget for institutions and increasing the fixed education budget.

250 million euros of the 300 million to be redistributed this way will go to exact sciences and technology/engineering programmes. The main beneficiaries will therefore the four technical universities. This particular recommendation has met with criticism, as it is perceived as detrimental to the humanities and social sciences in particular.

The committee finds that the competition for research funding has gone too far: researchers are under pressure to constantly apply for grants, which is disruptive and adds to work pressure.

The report also highlights the large financial reserves that some universities have built up and suggested capping this, forcing universities to spend the money on teaching and research rather than sitting on it.

In the long term, the committee recommends that student intake and programme funding be better linked to labour market needs.

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