Universities take concerns over work pressure seriously
Changes in the academic environment make considerable demands on staff: more responsibility, pressure to publish papers and to apply for research funding, a better command of spoken and written English, the digitalisation of teaching and greater supervision of students. In addition, financial uncertainty is making it increasingly difficult to offer staff a permanent contract. Universities are looking for ways of alleviating this pressure and uncertainty.
What are universities doing to reduce the workload of researchers and the ever greater pressure to perform?
Universities are taking the concerns over work pressure seriously. In 2015, for example, the parties involved in negotiating the collective labour agreement agreed that researchers on a temporary contract would be given time and training to write grant applications during their usual working hours. And if they are suited to a career as a university lecturer, and indeed aspire to become one, researchers are also given sufficient scope within their usual working hours to acquire the teaching qualifications that they need. In 2016, an exploratory report (only in Dutch) on work pressure was published on behalf of SoFoKleS (the Social Fund for the Knowledge Sector).
Research was also carried out into the factors that influence the pressure of work that is felt by academic staff. This report (only in Dutch) was published in 2017 and offers universities tools for tackling the workload of staff and the pressure that they feel to perform. In order to reduce the workload of staff, it has been agreed that every university will draw up a plan to tackle staff workload by the end of 2017 at the latest.
Financial uncertainty leads to an increase in temporary contracts
Universities say that the percentage of academic staff on temporary contracts has increased in recent years. This is due to major changes in funding and fluctuating student numbers. In recent decades the university funding system has changed dramatically. The funding per student that universities receive from the government has fallen significantly as a result. Moreover, universities have become increasingly dependent on other sources of funding: indirect government and contract research funding. Universities must compete for this funding, which is, by definition, temporary. It is generally used to employ PhD students and junior researchers on a temporary contract. In addition, more and more research projects, both national and international, have to be matched with a contribution from the university’s own funds. These changes have given rise to temporary contracts, particularly for young academics.