VUB rector Jan Danckaert, the new chair of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR), appeared in the newspaper De Tijd last week discussing the “structural underfunding” of Flemish universities. According to VLIR, Flanders is not keeping to its agreements. “The Flemish government has not fulfilled its agreements since 2008, as a result of which universities and colleges together have already lost €350 million,” said Danckaert in his capacity as VLIR chair.
The full article can be found here (behind paywall in Dutch).
“Our operating funds have experienced systematic under-indexation, decree-mandated growth pathways for research and independent academic staff have been delayed, and the allowance has not followed the student population,” he told the paper. The Flemish government has already skipped funding adjustments four times since 2015. The agreement was that when student numbers rose, the budget would increase with them. That has not happened. “Because of the erosion of basic funding, we are losing out on a huge amount of money and we face significant cost-cutting exercises,” Danckaert said.
The effects of underfunding, according to VLIR, are mainly visible in university and college buildings, such as the auditoriums, corridors and labs. Research facilities have also suffered from the money shortage. “You can have state-of-the-art research, but in a crumbling research lab, you are not going to get very far,” says the VLIR.
All universities are having to keep a very tight rein on their finances as a result. VUB has put a brake on investments and other universities are reviewing their core tasks.
Flemish Education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) thinks a thorough review of the funding model is in order. But for VLIR, that is not where the problem lies: “If Flanders fulfils the agreements, there is no problem.”