Dutch Legislature Strengthens Temp. Faculty Contracts, Universities Thwart New Law

At universities in the Netherlands, an increasing number of university academic staff are being employed on flexible contracts, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported in 2014. Over the past 17 years, the number of university staff on flexible contracts has doubled, rising to 40% in 2012.

If Ph.D. students, most of whom are on temporary contracts, are included, the number of academics on flexible contracts rises to 60%.


The main reason for the rise in flexible contracts is the decreasing amount of money available from government funds. Universities must increasingly find financing for their projects from organizations and the business sector. With each project running for a few years, academics are more likely to be offered a short-term, flexible contract, an official from the faculty union Vawo says.

“Good research and good teaching need continuity,” the Vawo’s Marijtje Jongsma told the paper. “That continuity is lost when no one stays more than a couple of years.”

In response, the Dutch government passed a law in 2015 aimed at providing contract faculty with higher pay and better contracts. In response, Dutch university officials have devised a scheme to thwart the new legislation.

Now, Dutch universities are getting around changes in the rules on temporary contracts by offering lecturers a fixed contract for one lecture a week plus a short-term contract for the rest of their work, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported this week. The set up breaks the terms of the universities’ pay and conditions agreement, the paper says, and makes it particularly difficult for lecturers to get a mortgage. Amsterdam University employs dozens of people using the combination contracts, according to a lecturer protest group known as UvAFlex.

Amsterdam’s VU, Radboud University in Nijmegen and universities in Leiden and Tilburg all use the same system. The current university pay deal includes a commitment to halving the number of temporary contracts. In addition, changes to temporary contract legislation introduced by the government this summer are aimed at encouraging companies and institutions to take on more permanent staff by giving more rights to workers on flexible contracts.

Tilburg economics lecturer Ronald Dekker told the paper the hybrid contract system is a transparent attempt to get round the new laws on flexible work.

“These people have a lot of work to do but … they are being offered as little security as possible,” Dekker said. Universities have been cutting back on permanent contracts since the 1990s in an effort to compensate for unpredictable funding and fluctuating student numbers.


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