Many dozens of chairs receive funds from foundations and agencies

A new overview shows that the Dutch Tax Administration, local authorities, agencies and foundations are funding at least 263 chairs at Dutch universities.

(Photo: Mohamed Hassan / Pixabay)

If all goes well, by autumn of this year, universities will be launching a national register of the ancillary positions of professors. Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf insisted on this after revelations of conflicts of interest in academia. There should also be more clarity surrounding the funding of chairs. One of the reasons for this decision was the discovery that a chair at Leiden University had been receiving funding from the Tax and Customs Administration.

And so an overview is now available. It includes 263 chairs, which are receiving funding from bodies including the Tax and Customs Administration, Rijkswaterstaat (part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management), municipalities and provinces, but also from agencies such as Statistics Netherlands, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, the Council for the Judiciary and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. Various foundations and museums are also funding chairs, such as the Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre, the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and the National Museum of World Cultures.

  • At TU Delft, 27 chairs receive funding from government bodies outside the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The main sponsor is Unesco (8), but Deltares, Prorail and the TU Delft University Fund also fund a chair.

This overview does not yet include ‘endowed professors’, who receive funding from the business community, for example. “The overview per institution of endowed professors and sources of funding is not yet complete at this time”, according to a letter sent by the universities to Minister Dijkgraaf.

On top of that, the question is to what extent this funding will be made public for each chair. A letter to the Minister states that “The Universities of the Netherlands are researching how these overviews can be made accessible at sector level from the UNL site” (italics by us).

Tax specialists
However, the university association has now created an overview of the funding of chairs in the area of taxes. The list includes 26 cases, some of which are also included in the other list. Sometimes it concerns the funding of PhD positions.

At Erasmus University Rotterdam, for example, there is a professor of Financial Accounting who is employed full-time by Ernst & Young Accountants and works for the university two days a week. Tilburg University has chairs paid for by KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The Tax and Technology chair is funded by the Tax and Customs Administration and “private parties”. Aegon is funding a Pension Tax Law chair at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Since 2008
PvdA Minister Ronald Plasterk was the first minister to call for a national register back in 2008, but it did not materialise. However, universities did agree to publish their professors’ ancillary positions on their own websites. Last year, Nieuwsuur reported that the registration of professors’ side jobs and funding sources was still a quagmire. Even former ministers with chairs did not have their records in order, including Ronald Plasterk himself.

In 2009, HOP reported that little progress was being made on the registration of ancillary positions. Three years later, an investigation by De Groene Amsterdammer found no real improvements. In 2013, former Minister Jet Bussemaker stated that she did not see the problem. She refused to support the introduction of a national register and downplayed the issue. This meant waiting for new issues to arise. In October 2021, De Volkskrant and Folia published articles about the conflicts of interest of professors of tax law and tax economics.

Last year, Universities of the Netherlands chair Pieter Duisenberg was unequivocal: “This can’t be allowed to continue. We have to do something about this. Transparency is the cornerstone of scientific integrity. When you provide your expert opinion as an academic, everyone must be able to verify that you’re doing so independently.”

But that is easier said than done, because what about the privacy of researchers? Who checks if the data is complete? And are there any sanctions if someone forgets to report an ancillary position? Over the next few months it should become clear what the register will look like.

The letter from the universities shared by Minister Dijkgraaf with the House of Representatives confirms they are working on the register. In anticipation of this, they will be raising their employees’ awareness of the obligation to report ancillary activities.

HOP, Bas Belleman
Translation: Taalcentrum-VU

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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