Parliamentary questions in response to million-dollar deficit at HFML-FELIX

06 Mar 2023

The financial troubles at the prestigious magnetics and laser lab HFML-FELIX are now also a topic of discussion in The Hague. Member of Parliament Lisa Westerveld has filed parliamentary questions with Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf. ‘The Minister must show that he cares about fundamental research.’

Lisa Westerveld is saddened by the fact that the financial problems at magnetics and laser lab HFML-FELIX lead to uncertainty and high work pressure. The GroenLinks MP, therefore, decided to submit written questions to Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf.

A month ago, it became known that HFML-FELIX is in dire financial straits, after two long-standing contracts with the science funding body NWO recently expired. Negotiations on a new contract are ongoing.

Operating costs

‘This touches on issues such as clarity on research funding, reduction of work pressure, and countering unnecessary administrative burdens that I consider important as a Member of Parliament’, Westerveld, who is an alumna of Radboud University, said in a reaction. When the HFML lab opened in 2003, she was still on the University Student Council. ‘If the Dutch government thinks fundamental research is important, it should also be willing to fund it. Not just through project subsidies with an expiring nature, but in a structural way.’

Lisa Westerveld.

One of Westerveld’s parliamentary questions is whether Dijkgraaf agrees that HFML-FELIX is of enormous importance for science, and that structural funding should therefore be clarified soon. She is also curious about the minister’s opinion on the fact that the lab is currently less available to foreign researchers.

Standard response

The fact that work pressure among the staff of the magnetics and lasers lab is high as a result of the financial problems bothers the MP. Heavy workload in higher education remains a concern’, Westerveld said. ‘The minister’s standard response to questions about this is always that collective agreements and the contracts are not drafted by him, but by university administrators. But they can draft good contracts only when they get sufficient funding for this.’

That is why Westerveld also asked Dijkgraaf in what way he can adjust the funding of research facilities so that there is more consideration for the position of employees, and specifically for the interests of PhD students and postdocs.

‘I am not concerned with making a political point, but with getting clarity for the employees of HFML-FELIX’

The MP urges the minister to answer her questions before the committee debate on science policy, which takes place on April 18. ‘Depending on the minister’s answers, we will come back to this in the debate’, she said. ‘My concern is not to make a political point, but to get clarity for the employees of HFML-FELIX. After all, they have to know how to cope with the high workload.’

Still, Westerveld thinks minister Dijkgraaf, who is a physicist, likes a research lab like HFML-FELIX. ‘He thinks fundamental research is very important. The important thing now is to turn words into deeds.’

Translated by Jan Scholten.

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