The new Ombudsman for Children, Margrite Kalverboer, says that youngsters from poor families should receive a basic student grant like they did in the past: “Their parents wouldn’t automatically suggest a bank loan to pay for their studies.”

“Poverty is a complex problem, a monster with many heads,” says Margrite Kalverboer, endowed professor at the Behaviour and Society Sciences Faculty in Groningen. She starts work as the new Ombudsman for Children next week.

Professor Kalverboer added that the abolishing of the basic student grant has hit youngsters from poor families especially hard. “It isn’t easy for their parents to say they should borrow money from the bank to pay for their studies.”

Are the conditions for student loans too strict?

“I know this option does exist, you can apply for a supplementary grant and your student loan will eventually be cancelled if you don’t earn enough to pay it back yourself. But some people just don’t feel happy about borrowing money for a university education.”

Why not?

“Poverty is often part of a pattern that includes an unfortunate upbringing, parents who aren’t very intelligent and a smaller network. And poverty is often passed on from generation to generation as well. Youngsters from this kind of background aren’t keen to borrow money to pay for further education. They prefer to start work at 16, but they lose their jobs again when they’re 18 because a 16-year-old can do the work more cheaply.”

Does this apply to all poor people?

“No. In some cases, poverty is caused by certain circumstances such as a divorce or the economic crisis, which means they’re a lot worse off financially than they used to be. That’s a different story. But most people who’ve been living in poverty for a long time have parents and grandparents who were poor too. Even if you give these youngsters the best education in the world, it still doesn’t help.”

Have you seen this yourself in your own environment?

“I’m from Groningen and there are tremendous differences there depending on where you live. My brother lives in Kiel-Windeweer, near Hoogezand which is a shrinking area. His children had good CITO results with a score of 545, but he was advised to send them to a secondary modern. My own children were at school in the city of Groningen. I seem to remember their CITO results were a few points lower, but they went to a grammar school. That’s really weird, isn’t it? My brother’s children are now doing a course of higher professional education, which is fantastic, but they could easily have gone to grammar school.”

Is a basic student grant enough to compensate for these differences?

“Well, of course there’s more to it than just that. You have to encourage and supervise these youngsters as well. It’s simply a lot more difficult for them. And they often have to cope with stress at home too, which doesn’t exactly make it easier for them to learn.”