In the second semester of the 2017-2018 academic year, students and faculty members protested the budget cuts for the faculties of Social and Behavioural Sciences and Humanities. After the government announced cutbacks of 183 million euros on higher education, the University of Amsterdam and especially the Humanities and Social Behavioural Sciences faculties were the first ones to suffer the consequences. During the busy protest period, the Amsterdammer reported on an email sent to the both of these faculties that stated a decrease in tutorial hours and in number of lectures for the next academic year was guaranteed.
Primarily, by reducing the scope of programmes and courses due to limited resources, the cuts have endangered the quality of education and jeopardised the university’s ability to meet students’ needs. For that reason, during the so-called “Week of Action” from May 22 to 25 and the “March of Education,” held on June 8, protesters asked for democracy in funding decisions, a fair funding structure, diversity, and for the budget to not affect the quality of education. According to Nuria Zantman, chair of the Student Council of the Faculty of Humanities, the protests in May and June did not affect the government’s education funding priorities, with the planned UvA cuts going ahead despite student uproar. Now, these cutbacks have started to become noticeable: The Corporate Communication course and different tracks of the Media Studies programme have classes for only two hours per week. Furthermore, the UvA Factbook shows that in the last academic year (2017-2018), the Faculty of Humanities received more international students, many of whom pay significantly higher fees. Zantman adds that “the funding per student decreased by 25% in 2016 and it has not increased since then. Less money per student means less teachers per student; this results in more massive and less personal education. This directly affects the quality of education. The changes are made so the UvA can function with less staff. These changes include for example the sharing of courses within a study with other studies, the merging of small masters and the growing emphasis on minors instead of program-specific electives.”
UvA president Geert ten Dam has stated differently in an interview published by Folia earlier this year. According to her, the budget cuts will not affect the quality of education: You sometimes have to take radical measures, and certainly when in transition, but you must always put education first.”
According to the UvA’s 2018-2021 budget plan, the actual budget for the academic year 2018-2019 was adapted to compensate for a deficit of 9.6 million euros through adjustments in staff costs, tuition fees and a rise in government grants. Nuria Zantman has stated that “these changes are made so the UvA can function with less staff. These changes include for example the sharing of courses within a study with other studies, the merging of small Master’s [programs] and the growing emphasis on minors instead of program-specific electives.” However, Zantman insists that the Student Council will remain vigilant and committed to ensuring that “no significant damage will occur to the quality and diversity of our education.I personally hope we can come together with loads of student councils across the Netherlands, central and faculty councils alike, to work together in order to keep sending a message to the government.”
The Ongoing Battle
According to Alba van Vliet, who is the head of the ASVA student union, the budget cuts and the protests against them are still ongoing at the UvA as well as on national level. While the aim of the protests last year was primarily to raise students’ awareness about the budget cuts and stimulate their engagement in all aspects of their education, van Vliet says that “this year we’re actively going to advocate for more money to education in the Netherlands and a better quality of education.” She states as a main goal to make sure that these budget cuts do not happen and that enough money is invested in education.
WOinactie, a student organization campaigning to reduce workload and pressure at Dutch universities, is planning an ‘actionweek’ starting on the September 24th. This week aims to inform those in and around the UvA about the budget cuts and changes to the education system. Alba van Vliet told the Amsterdammer that “in this week, different groups of teachers and students will organise actions about the budget cuts and other problems currently facing higher education. The ASVA Student Union will also take part in this week. We want to make sure that the voice and concerns of students about the current state of the University and higher education is clearly heard.” Furthermore, according to Nuria Zantmann, the UvA is also taking part in supporting the WOinactie actionweek; “The CvB of the UvA wrote a letter to the minister and the dean of the Faculty of Humanities has spoken out in the media for more money as well. These are very important steps, but whether they are enough is still a topic of debate.”
The consequences of the budget cuts have already started to take their toll on university staffing, breadth of courses and university resources. The full extent of the damage caused by the cuts and UvA’s subsequent budget plan for 2018-2021 is yet to be seen and further ramifications are expected.