How will faculties make up their deficits?
Back to black
the UG will have to make cutbacks ranging in the tens of millions over the next three years. They’ll only be able to do so if every level of the university helps out.
The multi-annual budget for 2024-2027 that the faculties submitted to the board of directors in the summer showed a total deficit of 71.7 million euros in 2024, dropping to 36.7 million by 2027. But the board of directors didn’t think this was enough. It returned all the plans, telling each faculty to revise them and balance their budget by 2026.
The faculties quickly adjusted their plans. Most of them have since been greenlit by the board, but how exactly will the faculties make these millions in cutbacks? What actions will they be taking? What will this mean for educational and research activities? Will it affect work stress? Which faculties are close to buckling under the weight of cutbacks, and which ones still have some wiggle room?
UKrant spoke to all faculties about their multi-annual budgets and plans for cutbacks.
Science and Engineering
The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) has a 20 million deficit on a total budget of 200 million euros. The faculty has been hit the hardest by the rise in energy costs; FSE uses half of all the energy at the UG.
‘These are worrying numbers’, says dean Joost Frenken. ‘We have to cut down our budget by 10 percent, and it’s not because we were wasting it before. A commercial enterprise would be firing 5 percent of its staff, but we won’t be doing that. But the budget cuts are going to hurt.’
The faculty introduced a hiring freeze back in July. It’s meant to save them a million euros in 2024. Newly open positions will not be automatically filled unless absolutely necessary. The faculty will also work harder to conserve energy. This should save them 2.7 million euros. They’ll also cut back by having PhD students graduate faster, which will save 750,000 euros starting in 2025, and by working more efficiently. This will save them a million euros from 2024 onwards.
However, these actions should not result in more work stress, the faculty board emphasises. ‘It’s a wicked problem’, says Frenken, but they’ll do anything they can not to overtax people. ‘We will have to take care of each other and notice when someone is overloaded.’
Budget cuts alone will not be enough. FSE is also looking for extra income wherever they can find it. Using stimulus and starter grants should net them an extra 5 million. Extra students, which would mean more tuition fees and government bonuses, should lead to an extra 2.8 million euros.
No new furniture
Then there are the countless small actions to ensure the faculty’s financial equilibrium as quickly as possible. The brand new Feringa Building, which will open its doors in March, will not be getting any new furniture. People will have to bring any and all furniture that’s still in working order. Every little bit helps, says Frenken.
He calls on all the staff members to come up with creative budget-saving ideas. ‘I want everyone to be aware how serious the situation is. Everyone should feel part of the plot to solve this. Turn off the lights when you leave your office. Switch off the computer when you’re not using it.’
However, the faculty will not be able to balance its budget by 2026 as the board of directors has requested. According to the current predictions, they won’t be able to do so until 2028.
Economy and Business
The budget deficits at the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) aren’t that bad. The faculty will end 2023 in the black. They’ll be able to make up for any deficits in 2024 and 2025 without implementing any radical actions.
‘We’re ending the year with more than half a million euros in the red’, portfolio manager John de Groot explains. ‘That’s a pretty good position to start the next year with.’
Not as affected
Just like the other faculties, FEB has been confronted with increased energy and personnel costs, with the latter resulting from the salary increase from last summer. They also can’t really expect an increase in student numbers.
Nevertheless, FEB isn’t affected as much as other faculties. ‘We’re fortunate enough to have modern buildings, as well as a cogeneration installation’, De Groot explains. ‘Although we, too, have seen the costs rise.’
In order to make up for the shortages, the faculty will be focusing on increasing its turnover, De Groot says. ‘We have the University of Groningen Business School’, he explains. ‘They provide executive education, a fancy word for education for people who already graduated, such as healthcare or energy transition managers. We want to really try and increase the turnover there.
Critical of new hires
They won’t be implementing a hiring freeze, says De Groot. However, they will be critical of which newly opened positions they’ll be filling. ‘There has to be a very good reason for it, but if there is, we’ll happily say yes.’
De Groot is aware that this could lead to an increase in work stress. ‘Our decisions aren’t solely based on financial incentives’, he says. ‘But it’s possible we do certain things just because they’re tradition, and it’s a good idea to be critical of that.’
Faculty council chair Swarnodeep Homroy feels positively about the developments. ‘The faculty board has been very pragmatic with the finances’, he says. And we have been very financially prudent. So we don’t foresee any big changes.’
The Faculty of Law has a nearly 1.5 million deficit this year, on a total budget of approximately 38 million euros. ‘But the numbers are pretty much irrelevant, because we can’t do nothing’, says dean Wilbert Kolkman.
One of the reasons law has such a large deficit is that the faculty receives a relatively small portion of the total UG budget, less per student than other faculties. That’s because in comparison, the law faculty delivers fewer graduates and PhD students.
To do something about the deficit, the faculty will both curb expenses and boost its income. Their aim is to balance the budget by 2026.
Cutting 45 FTE
The law faculty will be cutting 45 FTE of the currently nearly three hundred full-time jobs by not extending temporary contracts. This will affect a large number of extra staff that were hired as part of the Ruggesteun project. Retiring employees will not be automatically replaced, either. Kolkman calls it ‘hiring control’.
The faculty hasn’t determined the rest of the actions they’ll be taking. A faculty-wide committee, consisting of both students and staff, is currently working on them. The first plans will not be announced by November 1 as previously expected, but somewhere in December. Any changes to educational activities will be announced before February 1, so they can be implemented by September 1, 2025.
One of the options is to cancel courses that aren’t obligatory and have a low attendance rate. ‘There a few dozen classes out of a total of 350 that we need to take a closer look at’, says Kolkman. The faculty is also considering no longer offering the first year of the law bachelor in Leeuwarden.
Shorter PhD track
Another possible step is getting rid of the option to start a master track in February. The committee is also considering a shorter PhD track. Some PhD students take six years due to the combination of research and teaching activities.
The faculty wants to generate more income by attaching itself to several large projects, says Kolkman. ‘Nearly every study has some legal component to it. Take for instance a project on medical research by one of the UG’s schools. People tend to forget about the concept of patients’ rights. That’s where a researcher of ours could come in.’
ROB VAN DER WAL
The Faculty of Arts is suffering a 1 to 1.5 million euro deficit. ‘The deficit will shrink slightly over the next few years, because the costs for PhD students are being phased out’, says portfolio manager Wouter Heinen. ‘Making the adjustments we submitted to the board, our budget will be balanced by 2026.’
One measure the faculty is taking is reorganising courses. The board wants to see which 5 ECTS courses could be combined to become 10 ECTS courses. ‘That’s a didactic development that was already underway, but it will also save us some money because we would need to coordinate between courses less. That would also make a difference in scheduling and the organisation of education.’
According to Heinen, no courses are in danger of being scrapped altogether at the moment. ‘However, these changes should not lead to more work stress for lecturers. The changes have to be substantial, ensuring that students get proper education and lecturers spend less time on it, relatively speaking.’
The faculty will be able to make up for the deficits the coming academic year by using its own reserves. ‘That means we’ll have time to plan the changes in consultation with our staff and implement them in 2025/2026’, says Heinen.
To save moey in the meantime, the faculty has decided to no longer use funding from the first flow of money for PhDs. ‘We always had six PhDs, but we’ll be scrapping those. However, that’s also because we’ll now be getting starting and stimulus grants. The starting grants will be awarded to assistant professors, one grant for two people. That will then allow them to hire PhD students, which is important to them.’
The faculty also hopes the university’s central management will do more to save on energy, and soon. ‘Our energy costs doubled and sometimes even tripled’, says Heinen. ‘But we’re partially dependent on University Services for our energy-saving efforts, so we’re calling on the UG to make haste.’
The manager acknowledges that the cutbacks at the arts faculty will hurt. ‘But our initial situation is stable. That means we have the time to make sure everything is done right and in consultation with the entire faculty.’
‘The past few years at the Faculty of Medical Sciences have been good’, says UCMG spokesperson Lex Kloosterman. The faculty had quite a few monetary reserves and made a substantial investment in research equipment.
The current situation is less fortuitous. This year, the faculty is looking at a 12.5 million deficit on a total budget of around 220 million euros, says Kloosterman. This is mainly caused by inflation and the increase in personnel costs. ‘If we keep going like this, we’ll have a similar deficit every single year.’
Cut back on reserves
In order to partially make up for the deficit, the monetary reserves will be slowly cut back, from approximately 84 million this year to 50 million in 2025. This means the reserves will comprise 20 percent of the annual revenues, which the UG has agreed with.
Before the summer, they set up a work group that has catalogued fifteen themes that could help with cutbacks or to increase revenue.
It’s possible there won’t be as much funding for PhD students from the faculty’s first money flow – the money that the government gives them. They’ll have to procure more external funding or a scholarship. Different departments at the UMCG should also work together on purchase orders. Improved collaboration between the UMCG and the UG should lead to less unnecessary work.
The faculty will also take a hard look at whether to replace people who are retiring, but Kloosterman says it’s not a hiring freeze.
Saving on energy
Then there are the energy costs. The UMCG buildings’ energy use will decrease considerably due to the new energy-efficient Anda Kerkhoven Centre. ‘We’re also trying to figure out if there is any equipment that uses a lot of power that don’t need to be on all the time’, says Kloosterman. ‘Such as freezers running at -80 degrees Celsius storing stuff we don’t need anymore.’ The faculty will also be using measuring equipment to determine the exact energy use, and whether equipment can be made more efficient by having colleagues share it.
In order to increase revenue, the faculty might rent out its research and educational facilities at commercial rates, Kloosterman says. ‘Scientific companies might be interested in that. We’re already doing this, but it would be a good idea to improve our communication about the facilities we have on offer and how people can use it.’
Their aim is to balance the budget by 2026.
ROB VAN DER WAL
Behavioural and Social Sciences
While the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences’ (BSS) budget will be in the red for the next two years, the faculty isn’t panicking. ‘We have introduced a very stable financial policy’, says board member and portfolio manager Mirjam Buigel.
This means their buffer capital is large enough to make up for the deficits over the next two years (over 1.8 million euros in 2024 and 1.7 million in 2025). By 2026, the deficit will be reduced to 735,000 euros. ‘We will have to cut back, too, but fortunately, the circumstances are such that we won’t affect the primary processes too much.’
In order to manage the necessary cutbacks, the faculty board has come up with several potential solutions. Because it’s in a good position financially, it’ll have plenty of time to discuss these plans with the faculty, since the cutbacks don’t have to be implemented for another two years.
If the faculty wants to balance its budget by 2026, they’ll have to save another 207,000 euros in 2025, which will climb to 735,000 euros by 2026.
The most important potential measures to achieve a balanced budget are as follows: assign work duties more efficiently in order to decrease the number of support staff, axing the PhD Fund, and scaling back on student assistants and temporary lecturers.
‘We’re not implementing a hiring freeze on support staff, but we will be extra critical of refilling positions. The same goes for academic staff’, says Buigel.
‘We received the sector plan resources last year, and we would have loved to use it to hire more people’, says Buigel. ‘Unfortunately, we won’t be able to. We won’t be able to keep the 8 FTE we got through the Ruggesteun project. But those resources did allow use to keep on more assistant professors, and we hope it will curb the work stress a little.’
In the meantime, the board is looking for opportunities for more inter-faculty collaboration. ‘We have different departments that teach different curricula, but every department teaches statistics. Is that something we could improve collaboration on? These are possibilities we want to look into, together with the education directors.’
Buigel acknowledges that the cutbacks at BSS will hurt, too. ‘They always do, and we can’t help but have to take action. Fortunately, our sturdy reserves allow us to implement the measures in concert with each other and spread them out over the next few years.
At the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, the deficit is manageable, says dean Johan Woltjer. ‘If we don’t do anything, we’ll lose a few hundred thousand euros from our total budget of 12 million. The general feeling here is that we’ve got things under control.’
The faculty thinks they’ll be able to make up for the deficit mainly by standardising the IT package, travelling less, and by conserving energy. ‘We’d mainly focus on not heating offices, computer rooms, and workshops as much’, says Woltjer.
He also wants to be stricter when it comes to replacing people, in an effort to utilise staff as efficiently as possible, he says. But there are currently no plans to not replace people, and the faculty will not be implementing a hiring freeze, either.
There will be very few consequences for educational activities. ‘There will be no changes to the regular curriculums’, says Woltjer. ‘But we will be taking another look at unfunded educational activities, such as summer schools and electives. But we’ll continue to invest in educational innovation.’
More external funding
They’ll also be working on incoming funds. One important change they’ll be making that they will no longer be funding new PhD positions. All future PhD students will have to have external funding. They’ll need more external funding anyway, says Woltjer, also for other projects. He expects they’ll get it. ‘We’re not looking for enormous amounts.’
Woltjer does know that people at the faculty have questions about the budget cuts. ‘They want to know what standardising the IT package means, how they have to cut down on travel costs, or what getting external funding entails. But I haven’t heard any concerns so far.’
The faculty expects the totality of their actions to balance the budget by 2026, as agreed on with the board of directors. ‘We have consulted on our budget with the board, and have their support’, says Woltjer.
ROB VAN DER WAL
‘Our budget will have a deficit in 2024 and 2025, but we’ll be able to use our reserves to make up for it’, says Anke Schuster-Koster, portfolio manager for the philosophy faculty board. The board won’t say how big a deficit they’re making up for. According to the board member, they’ll be able to balance the budget in 2026.
In order to do so, the board has had to implement ‘a number of cutbacks’, although Schuster-Koster won’t say what these entail. According to her, there have been no hiring freeze or forced lay-offs. The cutbacks also won’t directly affect educational activities or work stress.
Religion, Culture and Society
The Faculty of Religion, Culture and Society (RCS) will balance its budget by 2026, says faculty board member and portfolio manager Marjon Westerbeek. The faculty doesn’t want to say how large its deficit is.
‘The multi-annual budget takes into account a number of benefit increases and/or cost reductions that still have to be implemented. It also takes into account a number of cost reductions that will be implemented starting in 2026’, says Westerbeek.
Westerbeek says the faculty is still looking into which actions it will have to take in order to achieve the necessary cutbacks. ‘We’ll be looking into that in the period ahead. We will carefully consider each decision’, she says.
The faculty could save money on housing costs, for instance, such as cleaning activities and energy use. Westerbeek says the faculty will also focus on increasing the number of students over the next few years.
When it comes to preventing work stress, Westerbeek says that faculty will try its best ‘to affect the primary process as little as possible’. They’ll set up an ‘education assessment’ work group that will look at the faculty’s educational design and whether that can be improved in any way.
‘We’ll also be looking at our organisation strategies and making choices about what we will and won’t do’, she says. ‘We’ve already made some difficult choices in the past. For example, we’re no longer using the faculty’s regular budget to pay for employed PhD candidates.’
University College Groningen
At University College Groningen (UCG), the deficit isn’t too bad, says managing director Sander van den Bos. ‘It’s somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000 euros. We expect to make up for that by 2025, which means we should be totally fine in 2026.’
In order to manage this, the faculty will endeavour to make the way it works more efficient. ‘We have a very broad programme with quite a few electives. We’re now asking ourselves how many students actually come to those classes.’ Are all these classes popular, or do some courses only have eight to twelve students attending? Is it perhaps possible to only teach these courses every other year?
‘We’re also checking if we could share any courses with Campus Fryslân’, says Van den Bos. ‘And whether there are any courses we could allow students from outside the university colleges to take.’
In spite of the potential restructuring, the current employees don’t have to worry, he says. ‘We will do everything in consultation. We don’t want our actions to lead to more work for people who are already working so hard.’
UCG will also be whittling down its budget by limiting travel, making some changes to the way they organise events at the faculty, and by introducing the new start date to the bachelor programme in February. ‘It’s our way of trying to reach a new demographic of students’, says Van den Bos.
According to him, the faculty doesn’t attract a lot of new people in February, but they do attract a new starting group. ‘The school year in the Southern Hemisphere is different from ours, and the students there want to start at a different time’, he explains. There are also always students dropping out after the first semester in Groningen. The UCG can fill up these spots by having a small group start their studies in February.
‘I’m actually quite happy, because it looks like we’ll be able to make these cutbacks without having to make any drastic changes’, says Van den Bos. ‘We do have some back-up emergency solutions, such as offering fewer classes, or cutting back on support staff, but we’re not at a point where we have to implement those.’
Campus Fryslân (FS) says it will have to take considerable measures to fix its deficits. Even though they’re expected to balance their budget by 2026, they’ll still be left with a deficit of 750,000 euros. ‘That’s including a total of 150,000 euros in costs due to our position as branch campus’, says managing director Piet Bouma. ‘Normally, the board of directors pays those.’
In order to balance the books by 2027, the faculty will have to take four FTEs from the small University College (UC). ‘It’s going to be quite the operation’, says Bouma, since the number of hours they have at the CF is already at a minimum.
The UC’s curriculum will also have to be adjusted. ‘We’re looking at the less popular specialisms and courses. We’ll be merging courses that can be merged, which will lead to a higher average number of students in a class.’ CF is looking at how they can reach this goal by collaborating more with the University College Groningen’s programme.
The faculty will also stop financing PhD positions from the first money flow. ‘It’s a difficult decision, because as an interdisciplinary faculty, we don’t get any of the money from the sector funds or stimulus grants.’ While research groups from other faculties can use those extra funds to finance PhD positions, researchers at CF cannot.
According to Bouma, the costs for the current batch of PhDs will peak in 2025 and 2026. ‘That’s because in September 2024, all the scholarship PhDs will become employed PhDs’, he says. ‘In 2027, the faculty’s growth will lead to a higher income, and we’ll be free of the high cost of PhD. That will finally allow us to balance the budget.’