2,000 protesters plead for more resources in higher education
On Thursday Oct. 12, the higher education sector campaigned for additional funding. The campaigners demanded that the Flemish government fully apply the financial funding decree. Discussion on the topic has been ongoing for some time now.
Last Thursday, on Oct. 12, about 2.000 students and staff converged in the capital to demonstrate for more resources in higher education. The campaigners assembled on the Koning Albert II avenue, where some of the protesters addressed the crowd. Respect for the existing financial funding decree for higher education was issued as the principal demand. As such, the slogan 'a promise made is a debt unpaid' ('belofte maakt schuld' in Dutch) was chanted repeatedly.
The higher education sector has long struggled with a lack of funding. Existing elements of the financing decree, such as growth paths and so-called 'clicks' – a system in which an increase in student numbers translates into a proportionate increase of resources–, have not been applied by the government for some time now.
'To not apply the decree would be inappropriate, undesirable, and inadmissible'
Rik van de Walle (UGent rector)
As part of his 'September Declaration' ('Septemberverklaring' in Dutch), Ben Weyts nevertheless promised to inject an additional 60 million euros in higher education. Still, for the protesters, this sum remains insufficient: 'Considering the numbers, that 60 million is important, however, if you weigh it up against the total sum of means higher education has missed out on, it does not suffice', contends UGent rector Rik van de Walle.
After the address, the protest march moved towards 'Europaplein', the square in front of the Brussels-Central railway station. The crowd consisted of delegates from various sectors within higher education. As such, several unions and representatives from higher education institutions were present, as well as a couple of political parties and political youth organisations.
Among others, Comac – the student youth wing of the Flemish socialist party PVDA – Vooruit's youth wing and Groen representatives attended the protest.
'Financing per student has decreased from 8.315 to 7.777 euros'
The manifestation proceeded in a friendly atmosphere; no incidents were noted. After about two and a half hours, the crowd reached its destination. The organisers thanked the protestors for coming and once more repeated the demand for additional funding.
Notably, UGent rector Rik van de Walle joined the protest march. 'To no apply the decree would be inappropriate, undesirable and inadmissible', he remarked to Veto. Other notable attendees included Nadia Naji, Groen co-chairwoman, and Jos d'Haese, sitting PVDA faction leader.
It remains to be seen whether the issue of higher education financing will be a topic of discussion in the oncoming 2024 election. The fact that the higher education sector has succeeded in setting up a manifestation on such a big scale is remarkable. It is telling of the protestors' sense of urgency on the matter. On that account, the demonstration is supported by all of the higher education institutions.
The recently-published VLIR memorandum has shown that all universities have missed out on more or less 350 million euros between the years of 2008 and 2022 because the financing decree has not been administered well. As a result, financing per student has decreased from 8.315 to 7.777 euros.
In his opening statement at the opening of the academic year, KU Leuven rector Luc Sels has criticised the current financing decree. 'If we want to preserve our extraordinarily open and inclusive system, we need resources,' he remarked sharply.