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Wetenschaps- en onderwijsbeleid

De YAL laat zich horen over beleidskwesties.

De Young Academy Leiden reflecteert op het huidige wetenschaps- en onderwijsbeleid binnen de Universiteit Leiden en daarbuiten. Als werkgroep wetenschaps- en onderwijsbeleid geven wij advies en input over zaken die belangrijk zijn voor de wetenschap.

We bespreken de belangrijkste kwesties die betrekking hebben op huidige en toekomstige beleidsbeslissingen, waarbij we vooral kijken naar de mate waarin ze invloed hebben op de volgende generatie academici. Denk hierbij aan internationalisering van studenten en medewerkers, toenemende werkdruk, wegen waarlangs jonge onderzoekers hun carrière kunnen ontwikkelen, financiering van hoger onderwijs, inclusief het effect van bezuinigingen en het onderzoeksbekostigingsmodel, en de verwevenheid van onderzoek en onderwijs. 

Wij zijn jonge onderzoekers die deelnemen aan de dagelijkse onderzoekspraktijk, we vertegenwoordigen een breed scala aan disciplines en putten uit een gevarieerd palet van ervaringen en voorkeuren. Ons doel is om in beleidszaken een constructieve onafhankelijke stem te laten horen, en oog te hebben voor zowel huidige als lange termijn ontwikkelingen. We publiceren position papers waarin we uitdrukking geven aan onze opvattingen over beleidskwesties en de waarden waarop die gebaseerd zouden moeten zijn. Daarnaast willen we bijeenkomsten organiseren met andere belangengroepen en beleidsmakers, binnen en buiten de universiteit, om zo van elkaar te leren en onze standpunten voor het voetlicht te brengen.

Position papers

February 2020

Note: this position paper is also available as a PDF

Background 

The integration of research and teaching is a core value of Leiden University, laid down in its Institutional Plan: “In Leiden every researcher teaches, and every teacher also conducts research” (Institutional Plan, p. 19). Combining research and teaching is a requirement for a permanent position at Leiden University (Guidelines for the Appointment of Academic Staff, p. 3).

De Jonge Akademie has indicated strong support for integration (verwevenheid) of research and teaching (Uitgangspunten van de KNAW en De Jonge Akademie voor veranderingen in de financiering van het wetenschapssysteem, points 7-9), but also sees them too much as communicating vessels, with research time under pressure from increasing demands on education (due to rising student numbers).

Research indicates that early success in research funding (and therefore more research time) increases chances of success later on, which is known as the Matthew effect (Bol, De Vaan & Van de Rijt, PNAS). Various parties at the national level (VSNU, NFU, KNAW, NWO, ZonMw) have called for a new system of recognition and rewards for academic staff (Room for everyone’s talent). The balance between research and educational performance is one of the key aspects of their position paper.

Points of concern 

Award of large external grants provides a relatively small number of researchers with much more time for research. We should avoid this leading to a two-tiered system with ‘haves’ who can spend a substantial part of their time on research (the ‘super stars’) and ‘have-nots’ who cannot.                                                                                                         

There is a call for revaluing teaching performance and the introduction for a more teaching-intensive career path, but the room for this is hampered by the fact that most staff (certainly those without large grants) are already on a teaching-intensive path in terms of work hours, while being judged on research performance. The introduction of teaching-intensive career paths cannot mean even more work hours spent on teaching for these members of staff, because this will limit their ability to continue to combine research and teaching.

In addition, the structural dependence in some faculties on temporary teaching staff, such as docenten (adjunct lecturers without research appointment), is worrisome and at odds with the policy of combining research and teaching and the commitment in the Institutional Plan 2015-2020. At the same time, we recognize the essential role of these teachers in many (large-scale) programs. We are very concerned, however, about academics being stuck in a carrousel of temporary teaching contracts, rotating from university to university or having many small teaching positions in parallel.

Recommendations

  • An increase of research time in the first money stream (eerste geldstroom) is unavoidable if we want to commit to research-based teaching at universities.
  •  The balance between research and teaching performance should be redrawn: ifteaching is a major part of the work, it should significantly feature in performance evaluations and career prospects.
  • We reject the ‘super star’ model of science and embrace ‘team science’:
    • We support the award of smaller research grants for a larger group of researchers, rather than large grants for only a small group.
    • Staff on substantial research grants should contribute to education intheir Institute. Research time buyout arrangements should take this intoconsideration, for example by limiting this to a maximum of two-thirds ofworking time.
  • The assistant/associate/full professor (UD, UHD, hoogleraar) career path shouldremain one in which research and teaching is combined at the individual level. Promotion can be done on both research and teaching merits (i.e., very good researchers with satisfactory teaching performance and vice versa).
  • If docenten are a structural part of a faculty’s teaching needs, the possibility should be open to hire them on permanent contracts (and possibly promote them to Docent 3, 2 or 1). At the same time, their role and capacities should be carefully considered, as they cannot be expected to be research active themselves. For some teaching roles this is appropriate, but not for all.
  • Whenever docenten are involved in the teaching of courses, the integration of research and teaching should be guaranteed at the team level, i.e. through supervision by a (research-active) course coordinator.
  • The position of young academics (particularly docenten, both pre-doc and postdoc) is too often precarious and should be better protected. For example, small contracts (less than 0.5 FTE) and short contracts (less than 1 year) should be avoided, especially for those for whom this is their main occupation (those who teach one course next to a professional role elsewhere are in a very different situation).

November 2019

The Minister for Education of the Netherlands, Ingrid van Engelshoven, plans to curb internationalisation in Dutch higher education. This concerns both efforts to attract students from abroad and the use of English as a language of instruction. Young Academy Leiden (YAL) is alarmed by this development, seen also in the wider context of the government's plans to carry out substantial funding cuts from the humanities and social sciences. We fail to see how a ‘Dutch first’ approach to higher education could be a solution to any of the pressing problems the sector is facing.

Nobody intends to abolish Dutch as an official language of Dutch universities. At the same time, no one can deny that Dutch academics have thrived in internationalised environments for centuries. This includes some of the most famous Dutch scholars and alumni of Leiden University. For example, Grotius’ Mare Liberum and Spinoza’s Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata were published in Latin. Huygens published mostly in French and Latin. They thrived because of internationalisation, not in spite of it.

Rather than framing language policy as an ‘either/or’ choice between Dutch and English, YAL strongly believes in a more balanced and better calibrated approach along the following lines:

  • YAL experiences Leiden University as an international study and research environment. This is something to be preserved and cherished. So is the principle of academic freedom, which we see increasingly under attack by attempts of government to interfere, including in financial, thematic, and linguistic terms.
     
  • Attracting foreign students to the Netherlands should not be seen as a matter of quantity, i.e. as a way of maintaining a university’s ‘market share’. Instead, internationalisation should be seen first and foremost as a matter of quality. The Dutch higher education sector is a magnet for the best and brightest from around the world looking for cutting-edge, yet affordable education. This is a key asset of the Dutch knowledge economy. The integration of international staff and students improves our university research and education, also for Dutch students.
     
  • The right balance between Dutch and English in higher education needs further adjustment. There should be a choice for students to follow a (majority) Dutch language Bachelor program in their chosen field where appropriate. It is important that Dutch students learn to communicate in both Dutch and English at a professional level. However, these skills should already be acquired in school as much as possible. Therefore, also from the point of view of higher education, it is crucial that the government invest in primary and secondary level education and provide better working conditions for teachers.
     
  • A knee jerk reaction which pivots to a ‘Dutch first’ approach comes with considerable downsides. It will inhibit efforts to attract top foreign students as well as researchers and instructors. This will also deprive Dutch students from the benefits of learning from leading international scholars in their own country. Moreover, lack of exposure to English as an academic working language will hamper the ability of Dutch students to go abroad to pursue successful international careers, to communicate their findings at conferences, to interact and collaborate with colleagues from abroad, and to write fluently in English, a language in which their results can be read by a broader audience and can spread and be used by other colleagues. A ‘Dutch first academia’ threatens to create an isolated environment, holding back scientific progress.
  • Rather than an ‘either/or approach’, novel ways of optimizing language policy need to be explored. For instance, it makes sense to have some themes, modules or tracks in Dutch, especially when these cater specifically to the Dutch labour market, but to have others, in particular research-oriented, graduate courses in English. This would allow students – both foreign and Dutch-speaking – to have the best of both worlds.
     
  • We welcome plans to facilitate and financially support Dutch language courses for international students to help them integrate into Dutch society. However, this should be on a voluntary basis and attuned to the particular circumstances of students. For example, it is important to differentiate between foreign students who pursue their studies in the Netherlands for several years with the intention of entering the Dutch labor market and those who come to this country to complete a highly reputed, internationally oriented one-year Master’s program.

August 2019

Young Academy Leiden is greatly concerned about the recommendation in the Van Rijn report to reduce funding for the social sciences, humanities and medical sciences.

The Van Rijn report correctly identifies many of the concerning tendencies facing higher education, such as the increase in workload and a funding model that is excessively competitive. But the recommended reallocation of funding from the social sciences, humanities and medical sciences to the natural and technical sciences will have a devastating effect on the former fields, which are struggling themselves with excessive workload and increasing student numbers. 

While the recommendation rightly responds to the problems that the natural and technical sciences currently face, the social sciences, humanities and medical sciences are dealing with similar issues. The work pressure is especially high in the humanities whereas the social sciences have the highest student to staff ratio (see figure 5 of the Van Rijn Report). The shortage of graduates from the medical sciences and social sciences is the second highest after the shortage from the natural and technical sciences (figure 6 of the Van Rijn Report). The recommended reallocation of funding can only worsen existing problems in these fields.

Young Academy Leiden stands squarely behind the value of interdisciplinary research. The proposed reallocation of funds pits the different sciences against each other and runs counter to the spirit of interdisciplinary and collaborative research. We welcome increased investment in the natural and technical sciences, which is indeed much needed, but reject doing so at the expense of other fields. The solutions to the most pressing challenges facing humanity are beyond the reach of any one particular discipline. 

We fear that the reallocation of funds will especially affect young scholars by increasing job insecurity in a pivotal phase of their careers. As Young Academy Leiden we are therefore very disappointed by the response of the Minister of Education and the coalition parties in parliament. We call on them to revise their position before the cuts take effect. We will campaign against these cuts and will ask other parties, colleagues and alumni to join us in this effort.

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