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Dutch research funding cuts will ‘reverse years of progress’

Dutch research funding cuts will ‘reverse years of progress’

Severe budget cuts proposed by the incoming Dutch government risk undoing years of progress on tackling research precarity and overwork, academics fear, with the changes also likely to affect the reputation of the country’s universities internationally.

Plans announced by the four-party coalition expected to form the Netherlands’ most right-wing government in decades will cut €1.1 billion (£936 million) from the funding for research and science, just two years after Robbert Dijkgraaf, the outgoing education minister, announced a significant funding boost in 2022.

This money was already beginning to have an impact, according to Rens Bod, a professor in digital humanities at the University of Amsterdam and the founder of the group WOinActie, which was set up in 2017 to campaign for more funds for research.

“Around €1.3 billion per year has been invested, and this has resulted in more than 1,000 new positions at Dutch universities, leading to a substantial reduction of work pressure and to a better balance between teaching and research,” he said, although he admitted that “a 50/50 balance between teaching and research remains a challenge in many fields”.

Along with the cuts to the research budget, the outline agreement released by the coalition sets out plans to reduce designated higher education funding by €215 million annually and to scrap the innovation-focused National Growth Fund altogether.

In a statement, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) said the plans were “bad for higher education and science” and would “undermine the ambition to strengthen the knowledge economy”.

“If these cuts will be carried out, we are back to where we were seven years ago: highly understaffed universities with precarious scientists and underfunded research,” Professor Bod told Times Higher Education.

“The cuts will put the positions of 1,200 scholars and scientists at risk, and will immensely increase work pressure. The balance between teaching and research will deteriorate, and this will definitely lead to less time for research.”

A reduction in grant opportunities, he continued, “will limit the Netherlands’ ability to compete internationally”.

The new government has also proposed restrictions on international students and researchers, among them limitations on English-language instruction, higher tuition fees for students from outside the European Union and stricter requirements for the Netherlands’ “knowledge migrant scheme”.

These restrictions, Professor Bod said, “will make the Netherlands a less attractive place for highly talented students and researchers. This will be detrimental for Dutch science and scholarship.”

Universities could previously have expected a degree of respect from the government, Professor Bod said. “The relationship varies from government to government, but in general, Dutch governments view academic research as an immensely important contribution to Dutch society, economy and culture.”

The new coalition is led by the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), which seems unlikely to want to continue to nurture that relationship. “The new Cabinet has other priorities,” said Professor Bod. “Radical-right parties have a complex relationship with – not to say an aversion to – universities. They don’t like critical institutions such as universities. Their vision is highly damaging for Dutch research and science.”