It is ‘embarrassing’ that some researchers and teaching staff have had to string together temporary contracts over a period of twelve years, in the view of Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. But he is not their employer and can only do something about it indirectly.
Sleepless nights, panic attacks and physical complaints… A university action group, Casual Academy, interviewed 28 researchers and teaching staff about the effects of temporary contracts and poor employer-employee relations at six Dutch universities. The report appeared last November.
GroenLinks and SP asked parliamentary questions about it. What does the Minister think about the stories of issues such as people working on temporary contracts for long periods of time? Can he amend the law to help those researchers?
Dijkgraaf’s answers, published today, show that he does not plan to do so. The universities and research institutions are the employer, the minister affirms, and he himself is responsible only for the system. The only thing he can do is to introduce ‘space and stability’ in the system.
Dijkgraaf refers to the 200 million euros for national ‘sector plans’, which are supposed to enable the universities to increase the number of permanent jobs. He has also allocated 300 million euros for start-up and incentive grants, intended for researchers with a permanent contract. That can act as an impulse too, the Minister believes.
“I’m opposed to the harmful consequences of temporary contracts”, says Dijkgraaf. “I think it’s important that researchers work in a healthy and socially safe working culture in which they get every opportunity to develop.”
He also acknowledges that temporary contracts can contribute to pressure of work and can affect the quality of the teaching when a study programme makes a lot of use of lecturers with a temporary contract. That is one of the reasons, the Minister writes, why the personnel policy is being evaluated by higher education watchdog the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO).
More temporary contracts
Proportionally, the share of temporary appointments at universities is growing. This has little effect on full professors and associate professors. 30 percent of assistant professors are now also on a temporary contract; in 2005 the figure was less than 20 percent. But it is mainly ‘other’ lecturers and researchers who are increasingly employed on a temporary basis.
“The effect of the recent changes to collective labour agreements and of campaigns in academic teaching that target more permanent contracts is not yet visible in the figures”, says Dijkgraaf.