Positive opinion on structural boost in funding of research and teaching in SSH domain

The National Sector Plans Committee has issued a positive opinion (link to page in Dutch) on the second part of the university sector plans for the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) domain. If the Dutch Minister of Education adopts this positive opinion, the SSH domain would have a structural investment of 70 million to look forward to. The SSH Council is delighted with this development and intends to spend the next few years turning the national collaboration and current enthusiasm about the content of the plans into inspiring, engaging research and teaching.

The first tranche of the funding (30% of the total amount) was granted earlier in October 2022. Expectations are that we will be awarded the remaining funding between 2023 and 2028. This will give the SSH domain an extra boost of 70 million in total. If the evaluation in early 2029 has a favourable outcome, the financial injection into the SSH domain will take on a structural character. This marks a significant financial impetus for the domain, which boasts the most students by far at Dutch universities and has been consistently underfunded in the past few decades.

The sector plans are a specific part of the Government Agreement on Higher Education and Science (bestuursakkoord hoger onderwijs en wetenschap), which undertakes to invest an annual amount of approximately 1 billion in higher education and science. Tools such as starters’ and incentive grants, and extra resources for teaching, are primarily aimed at creating more calm and space in the system, while the sector plans are primarily aimed at making strategic and substantive choices, identifying priorities at the national level, and tackling problems through national collaboration efforts. As well as increasing staffing levels and reducing workloads in the higher education sector, the plans also ensure clearer choices and more collaboration between universities. A total of 200 million has been allocated structurally to all of the domains together. We are happy to report that based on our plans, a substantial part of this amount, 70 million, is expected to go the SSH domain on a structural basis. Due to the serious challenges currently facing society, we need a professional field that is both strong and collaborative.

Over the past few years, the SSH domain (Social Sciences, Humanities, Law, and Economics & Business) has put a lot of effort into developing the details of the sector plans. A sector plan aimed at the Law sector was started three years ago, and recently received a positive midterm review. The collaboration between the Dutch faculties of Law has clearly improved. We have also continued to develop the sector plans for the Social Sciences and Humanities sectors. The deans of the faculties concerned consulted at national level while working on these plans. The entire process falls under the responsibility of the SSH Council, which is made up of the chairs of the four national platforms for deans in the Social Sciences, Economics & Business, Law, and Humanities sectors. The sector plan for Economics & Business will also be fleshed out in the years to come.

The new SSH sector plans consist of a sector plan for Social Sciences, a sector plan for Humanities, and a theme that cuts through SSH, which represents all four SSH sectors.

The ’Tradition in transition’ plan put forward by Humanities chooses targeted investment in Languages and Cultures to increase collaboration and improve profiling. In this way, the domain will be meeting the demand for reinforcement of modern foreign languages and Dutch (and Frisian), in line with the Coalition Agreement. In addition, investments will be made in two interdisciplinary themes that specifically highlight the link between research and society: Human Artificial Intelligence and Cultural Heritage & Identity. With regard to Human AI, the systems developed must be of maximum use to mankind, and it must be possible to contain undesirable effects. Research into cultural heritage and identity touches the heart of society and involves change processes and ’mediatization’ and the degree to which knowledge of the past can be applied to present-day society.

The collaboration between all SSH domains (Social Sciences, Humanities, Law, and Economics & Business) will be reinforced via the common cross-cutting theme: ’Prosperity, participation, and citizenship in a digital world’. Digitization is one of the largest transitions facing us and, as well as creating unprecedented opportunities, it also generates fundamental questions and challenges for society. By pooling SSH expertise from all four sectors per university and beyond the boundaries of the universities, we hope to substantially contribute to tackling this societal challenge.

The new SSH sector plans will create permanent positions for assistant professors in top-priority areas, enabling extra investment in local research infrastructures and relevant lab and data management support. In order to make a swift start, on hearing the positive news from the Ministry, all universities spent the past few months preparing to implement the sector plans.

Marjolein Kooistra, Communications ESSB, kooistra@essb.eur.nl
Lieke van Eijk, Communications ESHCC, vaneijk@eshcc.eur.nl