Preview: 2024, the year of cuts and bracing for impact?

| Rense Kuipers

Cut spending and gain on income. That is the task in 2024 if the UT is to remain financially healthy. But this is playing out against a politically precarious backdrop. Although the crystal ball was rarely as hazy as it is now, a preview of the potential tightropes for the UT in 2024.

Photo by: FOKKE EENHOORN; Fokke Eenhoorn

At the last minute before the Christmas holidays, the 2024 budget was approved. But it was met with resistance, doubts and due concerns. This is not surprising given the previous financially turbulent months, but the goal is clear: the UT needs to watch its pennies across the board.

Cut, cut, cut

Let's rewind for a moment to how things stand in terms of finances: the UT seemed to be heading for a deficit of 17 million euros in 2023, while a deficit of 15 million was budgeted. Reason enough for the Executive Board to send an alarming e-mail with firm measures at the end of October. In the end, the deficit did not turn out to be so bad last month, appearing to amount to 'only' 8.7 million euro. However, this was not due to those announced measures, but to some incidental windfalls. The operational result - the one without the incidental results - was still minus 26 million euros.

The faculties and services have a joint savings target of 12 million euros by 2024. At the bottom of the proverbial line, service departments must break even and faculties may dip slightly into the red. So somewhere there are big savings to be made - and, as university council president Herbert Wormeester rightly observed last December: 'Gaps are going to fall in the organisation'. But where those gaps are going to fall, that is still unclear.

Logically, the most ground to be gained is in personnel costs. For instance, there is still a stop/brake on vacancies and temporary contracts are not being renewed. There may also be other forms of 'turnover', as employees find other jobs, retire or are laid off... Important date to take into account: 1 March. By then, it should be clear how faculties and departments will make cuts this year. Whether their measures will prove feasible? We won't know until December 2024.


After last November's elections, the party leaders of PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB will be negotiating a new cabinet in the near future. Plenty of question marks still hang around that formation: will the parties reach an agreement? If so, when? If not, will we have to go to the voting booths en masse again? One way or another, the ever-present turbulence in The Hague is going to have its repercussions on the university and higher education and science in a broad sense. For instance, the parties around the table want to halt internationalisation and have cutback plans. On the other hand, as a technical university, the UT may be able to count on a preferential or exceptional position from the right-leaning parties. Whether these consequences will already make themselves felt in 2024 seems highly unlikely. But the outcome of the cabinet formation will outline the bandwidth in which the UT will have to operate in the coming years. In that respect, 2024 is probably going to be the year of pre-sorting for change.

Balancing internationalisation

Meanwhile, outgoing minister Robbert Dijkgraaf continues to polish his 'Internationalisation in Balance' bill, legislation that has already had UT in its grip for the past year. In anticipation of the bill, Dijkgraaf says universities must exercise 'self-direction': how do they want to deal with, for instance, the choice of English- or Dutch-language education, students' language skills, recruitment abroad and housing issues? Meanwhile, he has also asked the Education Council for advice, an opinion that is 'expected' to be published in February. Call it diligence or a delaying tactic by the outgoing education minister. Either way, the bill is coming in 2024.

Language policy: no final word on it yet

The legislation is linked to the university's language policy. Formally, English has been the spoken and written language at UT for over five years, but last autumn the Executive Board opened the door to a 'parallel bilingual' language policy. What that should look like on paper and in practice, the final word has not yet been spoken. Logically, being inclusive is paramount, but will undoubtedly go hand in hand with pragmatism. This will apply to the corridors as well as the lecture halls; depending on the impact of the Internationalisation in Balance Act, the UT bachelor's programmes will be forced to evaluate their language policy against the new legislation.

Investing in intake

While the UT has to cut expenditure, it has to gain ground on the income side. The determining factor in this is the 'market share' of students. When allocating funding to universities, the ministry takes into account the number of students enrolling and graduating. The UT has been struggling to maintain its intake for the past two years. Because of this financial health of the university, it is therefore all hands on deck towards the coming academic year, especially knowing that the UT is the 'least well-known university in the Netherlands'. A large-scale marketing campaign should help to increase enrolment, but those involved see the necessary obstacles on the road: fewer pre-university (VWO) students and a decreasing choice of technical subjects and studies. And then there is that discussion around balancing the international intake. The UT must fear the deterrent effect of that discussion, knowing that, on average, someone's study choice process takes about a year and a half.

Other notable developments in 2024

  • Rector Tom Veldkamp's first term ends in November 2024. Whether he will be up for a second term should become clear as 2024 progresses.
  • Veldkamp has the necessary dossiers under his belt, with the question being whether 2024 will be a year of 'harvesting'. For instance, a master vision should flow from the education vision published last year. He also hinted at 'future-proofing' UT education - from TOM to lifelong learning. And then there is the recognition and rewards movement, with its ifs, buts and objections.
  • For now, two notable professors' farewells are planned: former rector Thom Palstra waves goodbye in October. A month earlier, university professor Albert van den Berg will take his leave.
  • On the housing front: the ET faculty hopes for the completion of workshop CUBE this year, the 'head' of Langezijds building should be ready, and the BMS faculty is preparing for a major relocation due to the renovation of Cubicus.
  • The student houses on campus also face changes: 1100 campus houses will be renovated and made more sustainable step by step. At the boulevard, construction of more than 100 student houses should start.

Stay tuned

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