Unions and management rally in Brussels for higher education funding

Unions, management and rectors of Flanders’ universities demonstrated in Brussels on Wednesday to call for better funding for higher education.

A coalition between unions and institutions says that higher education in the region is structurally underfunded. In 2023, the sector missed out on 350 million euros due to unfulfilled agreements by the Flemish government. “Per student we get 7,500 euros, but according to the decree it should be 9,500 euros,” said Nancy Libert, representative of the socialist ABVV-ACOD Education union.

The September Declaration budget statement by Flemish minister president Jan Jambon allocated additional resources to cope with the problems in higher education. “The Flemish government provided 59 million euros for higher education in the September Declaration,” Libert said. “We are happy with every euro. But when you see that we’re facing a deficit of 670 million euros, more still needs to be done.”

"We are not asking for new regulations, but for the existing decree to be applied"

The non-indexation of existing operating funds is also a problem for universities and colleges.

“This is about the basic funding of higher education,” said Rik Van de Walle, rector of Ghent University. “We are asking for integral and correct allocation of funding. This is about the core tasks of universities and higher education institutions: teaching and research. We are not asking for new regulations, but for the existing decree to be applied.”

In support of the action in Brussels, lecturers in Antwerp also protested against the underfunding, VRT reports. A symbolic “mourning point” was set up on the campus of Karel de Grote university college, with lecturers dressed in black, a mourning register and a letter of condolence addressed to Education minister Ben Weyts.

280m euros added

Karel de Grote offers primarily practical education programmes, which are becoming increasingly difficult due to lack of funding, lecturers say. Class sizes are getting bigger as more students enrol, but there are no resources for additional teachers.

“We want to keep on top of how our students are doing,” lecturer Liesbeth Kustermans said. “You have to be able to pick up those signals, but it’s impossible for one teacher to do that for 50 students.”

“I don't feel challenged by these protesters,” said Weyts, of Flemish nationalist party N-VA. “Anyone who can read a budget and count will see that 280 million euros net has been added to our higher education system this coalition period. As for the accounts of previous periods: there is something to it, but not in the magnitude of more than 600 million euros.”


#FlandersNewsService | © BELGA PHOTO TIMON RAMBOER

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