Stop the sell out of the VU University Amsterdam!
This petition had 717 supporters
Stop the sell out of public universities!
I support the Concerned VU Group (Verontruste VU’ers), the staff, and students of the VU University Amsterdam in their demands to the Executive Board of the VU University Amsterdam:
1. The primary motivation for change must at all times be to enhance the quality of education and research and must have priority over minimizing costs.
2. Stop the current budgetary measures until reasonable negotiations have been resumed with the Works Council and the Trade Unions.
3. Reorganization may not lead to redundancy of professional staff.
4. Return control of the university to the scientific and support staff.
The Concerned VU Group (Verontruste VU’ers) seeks national and international solidarity to stop its Executive Board from the imminent implementation of a Strategic Plan based on a strict business model that has been rejected by the VU University’s Works Council and the Trade Unions. The VU University Amsterdam is no exception to the current European trend of commercializing public educational institutions. We question the legitimacy of such a fundamental transformation of the operational model of universities and other educational institutions.
Current situation: Staff and students of the VU University Amsterdam are currently confronted with an unprecedented wave of budget cuts and organizational changes. The Executive Board has decided to slash the budget by €33 million before 2015. The main argument given is that university finances are not sustainable due to: the government’s austerity measures, the unstable economic environment, plans to build a new campus, as well as their claim that support services are disorganized and inefficient and need drastic reorganization.
The Concerned VU Group contests these assumptions:
* A review of the expected financial revenues and costs 2011-2016 was commissioned by the Works Council. The independent consultancy firm (“Berenschot”) concluded that such severe cuts were motivated by an unjustified negative scenario.
* The forecast for the decrease in government revenues is not based on facts, as the current government is a provisional one and new elections are due on 12th September.
* In 2011, the university had a positive operational balance of €8.9 million.
* In 2011, the budget for external contractors was exceeded by 100% (€24 instead of €12 million) while professional staff was made redundant or put on temporary contract.
* Ironically, a large part of the alleged financial deficits in the period 2012-2015 (€33 million) concern the costs that the university will incur to implement its Strategic Plan to reduce its fixed expenses. Such extra costs include severance pay, unemployment benefit, retraining, and relocation costs of the employees that will be laid off.
* Slashing the budget with 33 million at this rate will cause fundamental reorganizations that will require time to settle in and prove effective.
The proposed plans and cuts are unnecessary and they will cause severe operational harm, affecting employment conditions and consequently the professionality of education and research. However, the Board is determined to make the VU the financially the most efficiently run university in the country. The current implementation plan involves:
* Massive loss of approximately one third of the administrative staff (450 fte)
* Severe reduction in student services (e.g., study advisors, contact hours, administration)
* More administrative tasks for academic staff
* Abolition of minor educational programs and specialist courses
* Merging of faculties on financial grounds
Working conditions and results of the implementation of ‘operational excellence’: ‘Less is More’ is their motto. However, this is exactly what staff and students of the VU are opposing because it will have an immediate negative effect on teaching and research. The implementation plan involves standardized services that would be commissioned at the lowest price, involving outsourcing and digitalizing services. Consequently, administrative and academic staff will lose their grip on the coherence of the organization of their work. Instead, academic staff and departments will have to purchase support services on limited budgets. In this way, the university will operate on fragmented financial principles rather than academic priorities. We claim that this is not a suitable strategy for an educational institution that aspires to innovation and excellence.
Students are hit hard because the budgetary measures at the VU will affect student services while at the same time, the Dutch government plans to cut student loans and introduce fines. For example, as of this year, students who incur more than a year’s delay will be confronted with a €3000 fine.
The dialogue between the Board, the Works Council and the Trade Unions has come to a deadlock. As of July, the Works Council rejected the implementation plan and the Trade Unions rejected the social plan.
The bottom line is that the implementation plan is based on reforms towards a university that operates as a commercial knowledge industry providing products for students and the business world. The members of the platform Verontruste VU’ers (Concerned VU Group) do not accept this principle. We regard the strategy as shortsighted and incompatible with the social role of public education. Academia requires an environment that facilitates collaboration, dedicated to furthering research and providing excellent education and support for their students. To achieve this, we support the Works Council and the Trade Unions in their efforts to secure these goals.
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