Dutch Organisation Flags High Pressure, Diminishing Autonomy among Higher Education Employees
Call for action
Employees in Dutch higher education are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their roles. The second-largest union in the Netherlands, the Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond (Christian National Trade Union - CNV) has raised the alarm on working conditions for those in the public higher education sector. According to them, employees have to deal with increasing work pressure, while facing tighter and tighter constraints on how they choose to operate as professionals. The complaints come not only from teaching staff, but support staff as well. In late April, the CNV's Higher Education sector group, sent a letter to Vereniging Hogescholen (Association of Universities of Applied Sciences) imploring them to implement solutions to these rising issues at Wittenborg's competitor institutions. According to CNV Higher Education Chairperson Luc van Dijk-Wijmenga and Secretary Andrea van Zuuk, the increasing work pressure and dwindling autonomy poses a risk to the quality of education, as well as the wellbeing and happiness of employees in the education sector. They are calling upon Maurice Limmen, president of the Vereniging Hogescholen, to take action.
In the letter, Van Dijk-Wijmenga and Van Zuuk flag issues that have become especially obvious in recent months. They say employees report having less and less say in their operations or team formations, or little to no say in educational changes, having to deal with an extra layer of management that influences and controls their work. “More specifically, it sometimes seems as if boards want to gain more control over the educational organisation, resulting in micromanagement, more layers of management and less autonomy and job satisfaction in the workplace,” Van Dijk-Wijmenga and Van Zuuk detail. The letter continues: “By striving for more and more (refined or not) hierarchy, the unique character of education is increasingly subject to regulations and uniformity. These are recognisable problems for everyone working in the sector and are developments that we find worrying.”
Van Dijk-Wijmenga and Van Zuuk argue that employee freedom is essential to quality education. “By giving employees more space to bring their own ideas and creativity to their work, they will be more motivated and more involved. This will result in better education for students and more satisfied employees,” the letter argues. Van Dijk-Wijmenga and Van Zuuk, therefore, call on the Vereniging Hogescholen to award employees more autonomy and responsibility in their work within education. For example, employees might have more say over the content of their work, which Van Dijk-Wijmenga and Van Zuuk say would place responsibilities back where they belong and encourage personal initiative.
The CNV's letter is not an anomaly. In February 2023, de Volkskrant reported that one-sided changes to education methods caused a stir at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the south of the Netherlands, resulting in intense debates among education staff. Similar changes at other Dutch institutions have also been subject to criticism and protest. So far, the Vereniging Hogescholen does not appear to have responded to the CNV's letter, which implored a discussion with Limmen. It remains to be seen which measures Dutch public higher education institutions will implement in order to relieve pressure from employees and ensure their workplace freedom while protecting the quality of public education.
by Olivia Nelson