Various student and youth organizations call an urgent letter to take steps to address the growing opportunity inequalities in higher education.

They have just written an urgent letter to Minister Bussemaker, asking whether she will now reintroduce the basic grant given that levels of inequality in education are increasing. Moreover, the organisations ask whether she will ensure that universities and colleges stop the selection process for first-year students.

Letter as signal for the next minister

But actually, the letter isn’t really addressed to her. “Bussemaker only has a year left,” says Esther Crabbendam from FNV Jong, one of the signatories. “There are elections coming up again. As far as we are concerned, this letter is also a signal to other parties, perhaps even to the next minister.”Stefan Wirken from the National Student Union (Landelijke Studenten Vakbond) also sees an opportunity to reintroduce the basic grant. “We especially hope that GroenLinks and PvdA have read it. Maybe they will realise that they need follow their social democratic principles and reverse this policy.” CDA, SP and PVV already want to see the basic grant reintroduced.

"We've had enough"

The youth organizations have launched a website together: “We are fed up”, it reads. “For years now, we have been warning about the demise of access to education. The minister has ignored our warnings.”

The renewed protest stems from two studies that were published in rapid succession: The state of education (De staat van het onderwijs) by the Education Inspectorate and Monitoring policies by the ministry itself (Monitor beleidsmaatregelen). The first report warned of a growing division in education, particularly due to the selection processes for programme admission. The other reports evidence that disabled people and young people without highly educated parents are less likely to go on to higher education now that the basic grant has been discontinued.

To go on like this is not an option

Previously, student organisations LSVb and ISO seemed to have already accepted their political losses. They even went on tour with the minister to explain the student loan system to prospective students. “Now that it’s here, you have to properly inform the students,” says Wirken. “But we have always warned of the consequences.”

According to them, ‘It’s better to stop half way than to persevere in an error’. It may not be ideal to abolish a measure after just one year, but continuing down a broken path is not an option according to these young people.

"Basic grant was a subsidy for the rich"

Meanwhile, Minister Bussemaker is resisting criticism and says that the basic grant was a subsidy for the rich. “She has framed that very strangely,” says Linde de Nie of the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO). “She also said that everyone would benefit from the new student loan system. Now it appears that there are severe consequences and something has to be done about it very quickly.”

But the abolition of the basic grant saves hundreds of millions and the government wants to spend that on higher education. Everyone benefits from it, right? De Nie: “It remains to be seen whether there will actually be an improvement in education because we do not yet know how the money will be invested. Apart from that, good education is very important, but it must be accessible for everyone. If it’s only for the happy few, that’s where we get concerned.”

Andrej Josic of the student committee, LAKS, “doesn’t rule out campaigns,” he says. “No large demonstrations are planned as yet, but it’s quite possible that we will take action. We already have the hashtag #isditdetoekomst.”