On the 15th of March, educators at every level of the Dutch academic system are set to go on strike nationwide over a lack of funding in the sector.
Translation by Thomas Ansell
RTV Noord reports that employees at primary schools, secondary schools and universities will come together to protest insufficient financial support for educators. Various protests have been held in recent months by each of the educational branches separately, all of which have primarily focussed on securing more money for their individual institutions.
Professor Barend van Heusden of the University of Groningen, who leads the Groningen branch of WO in Actie (Higher Education in Action), a movement of university staff and students fighting against educational cuts, told RTV Noord that he was pleased to see the different levels of the Dutch school system coming together as one, even though each levels has its own unique challenges and demands. “The ask is not quite the same. We are all asking for money, but with different goals. We are not asking for higher salaries: the common denominator is that we are all facing an extremely heavy work loads”
Henrik de Moel, a member of the northern branch of General Education Union, told Omrop Fryslan that it is only logical for all educators to stand together. “We see this as the best possible moment to make the statement that extra funding is crucial. The problems that we are facing will not all be solved by throwing money at them, but the portion of the funding that is allocated to education has been shrinking for years.”
In the northern Netherlands in particular, an ageing population and plateauing birth rate are making job security hard to come by for primary and secondary school teachers, since schools hesitate to give them a permanent contract due to the lack of students. Nationwide, nearly five out of ten recently graduated primary and secondary school educators quit teaching after just a couple of years.
International staff involvement
Professor Van Heusden also made the point that while the number of foreign-born staff members has increased at Dutch universities over the past decade in particular, it remains somewhat challenging for them to get involved: “They are often less involved in the Dutch public debate”, Van Heusden says. That is not to say that no international staff are taking a stand: last fall, several foreign instructors joined their Dutch colleagues in giving lectures on the Grote Markt to draw attention to the systematic challenges facing instructors.
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“I always thought it was strange to give lectures in a movie theatre, but it’s a little bit stranger to give them in the middle of the Grote Markt”, Steve Milder said into the megaphone as he began his open air class on Tuesday afternoon. In between the chimes of the Martini Tower and honking bus horns, the outdoor class session was one of a series given by University of Groningen instructors across the city centre to draw attention to “overcrowded lecture halls, the lack of investment in education and the ever-increasing workload” that universities, students and professors are facing nationwide. Barend van Heusden, Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, Stefan Couperus, Barbara Henkes & Wouter Marchand, Julian Hanich and Thijs Lijster are other RUG instructors taking their students outdoors over the course of the week. ? @thetraciest #groningen #universityofgroningen #woinactie #university #highereducation #researchuniversity #martinitoren #grotemarkt #workload #lecture #education
In November, students in support of WO in Actie painted tiles in front of the Academy Building of the University of Groningen red – a red square is the group’s symbol – to protest the lack of support they felt the movement was getting from university leadership.
WO in Actie is once again looking to the boards of universities for support in the upcoming strike. To that end, University of Groningen spokesperson Gernant Deekens told RTV Noord, “We have supported the actions so far and nothing has changed yet. But we are still discussing it with the VSNU (The Dutch Association of Universities).”
The VSNU says that it needs more time to assess what this means for the universities, however it is sympathetic to the causes of the strike. The Hanze University of Applied Sciences has not yet publically taken a stance on the matter: its board will meet to discuss the planned strike next week.