As you might well be aware, over the past few months students and teachers from various major University cities have been speaking out about the tightening budget for higher education. In this time We have reached out to the press, organized information nights, spoken to politicians and university managers, and even went out on the streets in protest. Doing this, we have been spreading a very important message. Namely, that university staff are suffering from too much work pressure, that the budget per students is consequently falling and the quality of our education might be in peril if we do not turn this trend.
Our message has engaged thousands of students and scores of teachers across the country, proving that people are feeling this squeezing of education in their day-to-day lives. Last year we ended the academic year with a Lecture Marathon, where humanities students and teachers came together to discuss the value and future of our education. A couple of hundred people in attendance showed that our organization in Utrecht is modest but real. We draw a lot of inspiration from bigger organizations from universities that have a stronger tradition of speaking out for themselves. Their problems are the same as ours.
From this collaboration between teachers and students emerged an organized group of teachers, uniting themselves under the banner of WO in Actie, styled after the successful elementary school teachers union. Drawing teachers from many different departments within the University that are all concerned about the future. These teachers sacrifice their precious free time to speak out. They do so not out of pure self-interest, but to secure the future of our education in a democratic and sustainable fashion, focusing on quality and not on quantity. An education system where people are free to develop themselves and exchange ideas, where lecturers and students get a chance to learn from each other even if that might not always seem like the most ‘efficient’ way to run things. And for speaking out for this vision of education, for caring about what and how they teach the students, we greatly appreciate their effort.
Just like the students movements, these teachers are not alone. Wo in Actie has various branches across University towns, calling for a repeal of the ‘doelmatigheidskorting’ and reinvestment in education to the level of the turn of the millennium. Groningen, Amsterdam, Tilburg, Wageningen and Utrecht all join together to call for these changes. Next week, from Monday the 24th of September, they have jointly announced a national action week in which all across the country, teachers will raise attention for these issues in various different, creative and respectable ways.
However, as students we have demands that differ slightly from those of the teachers. For us, the student loan system that was implemented in 2015 turned out to be incompatible with the high cost of living as a student. This is exemplified bin the decreasing amount of students of working class backgrounds and the inability of the majority of students to leave their parental house. Not only was the model insufficient as it was, the government is now also raising the interest on these loans, at the cost of our futures. What we are facing is increasing expenses of studying, we will have to pay back increasingly more money and on top of that it turns out that the high student debts that are imposed on us block us off from getting a mortgage. Our personal futures are in peril. We are the first generation of a new age, one in which for the first time since the end of the World War, children will be worse off than their parents.
For all the money that we are putting into getting our education, we want to receive quality education. Education in which lecturers have proper amounts of time for us, where we are not educated by overworked university workers that barely have time to reflect on the papers we handed in. In addition, we need the government to acknowledge that the current policies cannot be continued. Our education budget has fallen in both absolute and relative terms: since the 1980s the government spending has declined from 7% of GDP to a mere 5.6%, while the amount of students has steadily increased. The budget has thus decreased in two ways, firstly in terms of percentage spending of GDP and secondly, as the amount of money available per student. More and more students have to compete for a limited amount of resources. The government does not recognize our problems. They would rather subsidize big business with large tax cuts, than invest in the future of our society. If students and teachers can work together to draw attention to the problems facing our institutions, we have a much stronger chance to be taken seriously than alone.
But for this to work, for us to be successful in our aims, the teachers need to be strongly represented. Lecturers involved with WO-in-actie have been doing fantastic work, but work has been falling on fewer shoulders than should be the case. Therefore, this is an appeal to YOU, lecturers at our University. We call upon you to get into contact with the Utrecht branch of WO-in-actie and support in any way that you can, the organization in our town. Show up to the public lectures, bring your family and friends, wear a red square to work or get in touch with your University board. There is a large variety of things, some big, some small, that you can do. Whatever you can contribute, CONTACT your WO-in-actie representative.
Together we can turn the tide. We can reverse the trend of budget cuts to higher education and secure a better future for all. Help out today.
The students of
Nieuwe Universiteit Utrecht