Finally Higher Investments:

How Dutch Universities Have Struggled With Lack of Funding for Years

By Christina Kordes | Campus | February 8, 2022

Cover Illustration: Student holding 100 dollar bills. Alexander Mils / Pexels

Campus reporter Christina Kordes discusses the financial problems faced by many universities in the Netherlands, including the University of Amsterdam.

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is the largest university in the Netherlands. It counts over 41,000 students in the academic year 2021/2022, a number that has been growing consistently for over a decade. This trend of an increase in student numbers is also visible at other universities in the Netherlands. While the new coalition government has now promised an increase in investments in higher education, the governmental funds have not been growing equally with the number of students for the past years. This has led to universities facing issues with their facilities, research and development.

Over the past 20 years, the number of students at Dutch universities has more than doubled from 168,000 students in the year 2000 to approximately 340,000 students in 2021. The spokesperson of the Universiteiten van Nederland (UNL) says that this is partially due to more students coming from Dutch secondary schools. Also, the number of international students has increased significantly, especially in the last three to five years. While the government funds per student have been gradually increasing each year, they do not compensate for the significant increase in student numbers. Every university in the Netherlands received 15,475 per student per year from the government in the academic year 2021/2022. “We have been working together with students and talked to politicians for years now and have made it very clear that we need more funding,” says the spokesperson of the UNL. He says, “the main downside of this underfunding of the universities is the working pressure for the staff, as employees have less and less time for their research.”

Another outcome of this situation could be a lack of sufficient facilities for teaching. This became visible, for example, in the European Studies master. In block one, it was not possible for the UvA to provide a room big enough for all 40 students. The course professor, Krisztina Lajosi-Moore, expressed regrets about the situation, saying, “these practical administrative problems diminished the educational effectiveness and value of the seminar.” Especially in times of COVID-19, putting too many students in a small room is not an ideal situation. “Many students felt unsafe under these circumstances and decided not to attend the Friday class”, says Lajosi-Moore. Amira, a student from this course, said “having classes in tiny rooms without any windows where social distancing wasn’t possible and students were allowed to take off their masks made me feel unsafe.” Her classmate Eline added: “I was focusing more on my back starting to hurt because I had to sit on the floor as there weren’t enough chairs than on the teacher or the discussion.” Lajosi-Moore explains that “at the UvA, most seminar classrooms in the humanities faculty were designed for groups consisting of 15-20 students maximum. When the rapid massification and internationalization of the student population took off a decade ago, the shortages of teaching space, student accommodations, and academic staff all became painfully clear.”

Student holding 100 dollar bills. Alexander Mils / Pexels

The situation for the European Studies master is just one example of how the lack of government funding and the significant increase in student numbers has negatively impacted the learning environment at universities. Other manifestations of the issue include the decrease in research quality and the weakening of Dutch education’s standing globally. Controlling the increase of international students is one mechanism Dutch universities are considering implementing to deal with the current situation. “Dutch higher education had been designed to be open and very accessible and many consider this a great advantage”, says the UNL spokesperson. However, he went on to say that “most of our universities don’t have the ambition to grow any further” adding that, “we need steering instruments for the influx in student numbers.” 

These steering instruments include the expansion of the possibility to use diversity as a criterion for selection, a capacity restriction only for the English-language track or a restriction for non-European Economic Area (EEA) students where necessary. Connected to this restriction is also the contemplation to increase the fees for non-EEA students. These fees are already higher than for students from member states. This is because universities don’t receive funds from the government for non-EEA students and EU-law doesn’t allow universities to make a difference between students from member states. Other than changes initiated by universities themselves, there are also upcoming adjustments in governmental funding. The new coalition agreement from December sets out substantial investments in higher education. “We are very hopeful that these investments will help to fix the issues we face at the moment”, says the UNL spokesperson.

Christina Kordes is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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