What will happen to jobs and research?

Worries about budget cuts

Departing colleagues aren’t being replaced and the future of research projects is uncertain: the announced budget cuts in higher education are already affecting UG staff. ‘People will go look for other jobs because of this.’
3 July om 11:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 July 2024
om 12:14 uur.
July 3 at 11:55 AM.
Last modified on July 3, 2024
at 12:14 PM.
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Door Rob van der Wal

3 July om 11:55 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 3 July 2024
om 12:14 uur.
Avatar photo

By Rob van der Wal

July 3 at 11:55 AM.
Last modified on July 3, 2024
at 12:14 PM.
Avatar photo

Rob van der Wal

Scott Trager was in the middle of interviews for a vacancy at the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s astronomy department when he got the news that the position was on hold because of the budget cuts. ‘I felt bad to bring the candidates the news, but luckily they took it well’, he says.

Pedro de Faria, professor of innovation management at the Faculty of Economics and Business and department chair, is getting a lot of questions from people who are wondering about their contracts.

And at the Faculty of Arts, a staff member says, the hiring freeze means that there is more work for fewer lecturers, affecting the quality of education.


The government’s planned roughly 1 billion euro budget cut in higher education and research comes on top of measures announced by the UG earlier this academic year to deal with rising costs, lower student numbers and a lower government contribution.

It feels like the aim of this government is to damage higher education

It has yet to be decided exactly how the cut – about 10 percent of the total education budget and comparable to the amount circulating in a Dutch university like the UG – will be effected. Incoming education minister Eppo Bruins still needs to work out the coalition agreement into a more fine-tuned policy. However, the UG could lose up to 80 million euros in funding over the next few years, and the consequences of that are already being felt at the university. 

Will there be lay-offs? Does this mean an end to prestigious research projects? Everything is still up in the air, but the uncertainty is gnawing at many staff members. 

Quality of teaching

‘It’s a weird period’, says the arts employee. ‘We are fearing cuts, but we don’t know what to expect.’ They don’t want to be named, as ‘the atmosphere doesn’t make me feel safe to share my opinion. The staff here is worried about the consequences of protesting against these measures.’

The announcement came as a shock, the employee says. ‘We knew there would be a loss in revenue because of the new internationalisation law, but I didn’t expect this further amount of money to be cut. It really feels like the aim of this new government is to damage higher education.’

If so, they are already succeeding, the employee believes. ‘The faculty is discussing extensifying classes to save staff time and there is a freeze on recruitment.’ This means more lectures have to be taught by the remaining staff. ‘And that has an impact on the students and on the quality of teaching.’


De Faria also feels that the cuts, together with the government’s plan to curb internationalisation, will be detrimental to the university. ‘The whole situation is ridiculous’, he says. ‘The government says they want to make education better and protect Dutch students. But these measures hit all the students and only make universities worse and less diverse, because the budget per student will decrease.’

We tried to figure out why we got hit, and we don’t know

Because he is the department chair, a lot of people come to him with questions. ‘They ask me what the consequences of the budget cuts are, what will happen and if the cuts will also affect their contract.’

De Faria does his best to reassure them. ‘I can say that there will be measures taken and that the UG’s policy is to be a very good employer. I’m happy that the UG takes time to think and doesn’t overreact. And it’s not that they need to act immediately, luckily.’

Two things need to be done to tackle the cuts, he says. ‘First, we should be making plans and not panic. Those plans should not be irreversible, like discontinuing a programme. Second, we should continue lobbying and talk to everyone we can. We should stress that we have good universities.’

In shock

Not many departments are hit as hard as NOVA, a research school in which the astronomy departments of the universities in Leiden, Amsterdam, Nijmegen and Groningen collaborate. The proposed cuts mean they have to stop their instrumentation development. 

Trager and his colleagues were ‘in shock’ when they first heard about the government plans to discontinue the sector plan funding that was promised to last until at least 2031. ‘It effectively hits our entire budget’, says Trager, NOVA’s scientific director and a professor at the UG. ‘We have no other structural funding.’ 

Cuts like this are bad for the morale in the research group

The research school belongs to the absolute top-class of the world when it comes to astronomy, delivering instruments for the James Webb space telescope. ‘We tried to figure out why we got hit, and we don’t know.’

The change in the government’s position is not only unforeseen, but also illogical, Trager says. ‘We as a country already spend less of our yearly government budget per capita on science than countries like Germany, the US, China and France. We are doing extremely well on science with little money already.’

He is worried about NOVA losing its reputation, but also about the fate of his colleagues. ‘Imagine you are being told that you might not have a job anymore in two to three years. What would you do?’ he says. ‘Cuts like this are bad for the morale in the research group. And people will go look for other jobs because of this.’ 

Push back

The arts employee is surprised that society hasn’t reacted more strongly to the cuts. ‘With this type of changes in the way higher education is funded, people would have a strong reaction of protest in a lot of other countries.’

That lack of support is a problem, the employee says. ‘We will be judged for lowering the quality of education, but the government does not give us a choice. The question is at which point to push back and no longer accept these cuts.’

The UG hasn’t formally reacted to the plans yet, but board member Hans Biemans suggested in the university council that the cuts might be a breach of contract between the government and all Dutch universities. ‘We are also looking into the legal aspects of what is happening now, to see if we can challenge it’, he said. ‘We will do everything we can to reverse this.’