Is teaching top-up the answer?

Because of their high hourly rates, hiring staff from Wageningen Research is prohibitively expensive for university chair groups. The executive board has now set up a compensation fund of 250,000 euros per year to be used to bridge the gap. A kind of teaching subsidy for institute staff. A good idea?
Yvonne de Hilster

Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek

Ron Hogenboom, researcher at Rikilt

‘I give a few lectures every year, both at Wageningen and elsewhere. At Wageningen they are guest lectures. I am asked because of my specific expertise on risk assessment and legislation related to dioxins and veterinary medicines. As far as I know my institute doesn’t get paid for that: I book the time under general costs. So I can’t judge whether this fund is a good idea. But I wonder whether the university will want to go on hiring me if they have to pay me an hourly rate.’

Johan Verreth, professor of Aquaculture and Fisheries

‘It seems logical to me that if people say WR staff should be involved in teaching, practical arrangements should be made. People from Marine Research used to lecture for us but it was supposed to be billed by the hour and I never wanted to do that so we just arranged it between ourselves. Those kinds of arrangements came to an end about a year and a half ago because of Marine Research’s financial situation. We can only applaud this fund. Marine Research is much bigger than my chair group, and has a lot of expertise we don’t have, which means extra scope for our students in terms of internships and thesis research opportunities. If I can get a total of 13 weeks a year compensation, that’s quite something. And now I hope they will also create space for tenure trackers from Wageningen Research to work at the university if that is good for their careers.’

Gert Duinkerken, head of department of animal feeds at Livestock Research

‘We often made our own arrangements in close consultation for staff who were keen to be involved in teaching. For example, I had someone who was seconded to teach one day a week and supervise Master’s and PhD students. That is good for the staff member’s career, provides the chair group with input from the field and is good for the links between education and research. This compensation fund expands the possibilities, in my view, especially for incidental cooperation. But it all starts with people’s intrinsic drive. They need to be motivated and qualified.’

Theo van Hintum, head of PGR, Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands

‘I can only applaud this fund. We would certainly like to cooperate more in education but there is not much demand. Chair groups would rather try to acquire the knowledge they need themselves, while we already have it. What probably contributes to this is that we are more expensive. And there is more knowledge available within Wageningen Research that is lacking at the university. It is a pity not to make use of it. When there are obstacles such as different rates you need to get rid of them, and that is exactly what is being done now, so that is great.

Jacqueline Bloemhof-Ruwaard, professor of Operational Research and Logistics

‘We have a colleague at Wageningen Economic Research who we’d like to involve in our teaching programme. At the moment he has a temporary appointment. We are also doing a number of projects together, which means he can carry on doing research as well. We work a lot with Economic Research and it would be nice to be able to recruit more people from that institute or, for example, from Food & Biobased Research, to teach. I have never looked into that because the rates we can pay are too low for them. And I can’t make up the difference, my purse is not bottomless. This compensation arrangement opens doors which we didn’t think of before now and it is going to make cooperation on education a lot easier.

Gerco Angenent, personal professor of Molecular Biology and head of a group at Wageningen Plant Research

‘Personally I am involved in teaching in two ways: in my capacity as personal professor and as a member of staff at Plant Research. Together with other colleagues at Plant Research I give the occasional guest lecture. At present we do that without being paid for it. We accept that because for us it is a way of recruiting students for thesis research projects. I don’t think we’ll ever be paid for that. In itself the compensation fund is a good initiative, but to be honest I don’t think it will be used much. Looking around at Plant, I notice that a chair group prefers to spend as much as possible of its limited budget on its own people. Even if the fund makes up for the difference in rates, if they hire WR staff they are still transferring money to an institute. But when there is a staff shortage, due to loss of a teacher or a sudden rise in student numbers, I think people might appeal to staff at the institutes. And another situation is when a chair group starts a new course and wants to involve people from Wageningen Research in that. But new courses are not developed all that often, and it is a long process, so I don’t see it happening that much.’

Ludo Hellebrekers, director of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research

‘I am pleased that this fund has been set up. This fund makes things possible and we must make good use of it and then evaluate how it works out. I have said in the past that a contribution to education by our institute is problematic, and that we always make a cost-benefit analysis of it: the core business versus the finances. We always had to top up the money. Sometimes we did so, as a strategic investment, but I expect the balance will work out more positively now. Even though it probably means an investment in preparation and travelling time to Wageningen. Involving our staff in education also increases the scientific collaboration through personal contact and knowledge exchange. It’s give and take. The more internal links we have, the more chance of synergy.’

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