The annual budget: universities annoyed by future spending cuts

There are more hefty spending cuts on the way for higher education in the government’s new National Budget. Universities are annoyed, even if these cuts are far in the future.

Why is the government planning to recoup the Education Executive Agency’s (DUO) IT expenses from the universities? And why does higher education have to foot the bill for the 226 million euros in missed interest payments on student debt?

The budget the outgoing government presented yesterday is, as far as higher education is concerned, no more than a fill-in-the-blanks exercise: since there’s no new government, there’s no new policy. But ministers are passing the buck for certain problems and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands VSNU wants to put this in the spotlight.

Originally, the government wanted to raise the interest rate on student loans, but two years ago the House of Representatives put a stop to that. As a result, government coffers are missing out on revenue: the extra interest would have come to three million euros per year by 2026, a sum that would eventually have run up to 226 million euros per year.

This left a big hole in the budget. The lost revenue is nonetheless ‘technically on the books’ as cutbacks to higher education. At the time, opposition parties PvdA and SP locked horns with CDA Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra.

IT problems

And there’s another cutback. The Education Executive Agency has run up a substantial bill for its IT systems. Hence from 2026 through 2033, about 40 million euros will be cut each year by ‘technically booking’ the loss to the funding for the universities.

‘Technically booking’ means that the cuts have to be posted somewhere in the budget, even if the next government could reverse direction and wipe them out. It’s a question of bookkeeping.

However, technically booking expenditures got a bad reputation last spring when the student coronavirus support measures were also posted as cuts to MBO, HBO and academic education. ‘Does it look bad? Yes’, D66 education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven admitted. It was her own party who later ensured that those cuts disappeared again from the books after an intense debate with the Minister of Finance.


The question is whether that will happen again this time. The general political review begins today, but perhaps the House of Representatives would rather wait and discuss these cuts with the next government.

Stay tuned

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