Five years ago, student debts amounted to only 12 billion euros but this figure has been increasing by more than one billion each year. Today, the Dutch National Student Association, ISO, launched the National Student debt meter, which shows how much higher the debt becomes each second.

ISO is worried: students invest an “enormous amount” in their future and since the introduction of the student loan system, this amount is simply getting higher. “But we are beginning to wonder whether the students will ever see a return on their money.”

An average debt of 14,000 euros

Figures from the Education Executive Agency (DUO) confirm ISO’s words. In 2016, the total student debt was 17.6 billion euros. The average (former) student – from those who had just graduated to those who had almost repaid their loans – had an outstanding debt of almost 14,000 euros.

These also include a considerable number of old debts. DUO is still trying to recover 13.2 million euros worth of loans issued before 1992, as well as loans of 10.7 million euros concluded before 1986.

'Freeze or lower tuition fees'

In ISO’s opinion, something must happen quickly. Tuition fees should be frozen and students have to be given better information about their study programmes and their chances of a job. “Nothing is more expensive than making the wrong choice,” asserted chairman Jan Sinnige. He has also warned that the revenue from the abolition of the basic student grant must stay within the higher education sector. Sinnige: “An agreement is an agreement: not one single cent of that money must be allowed to go to another sector.”

Over the last few weeks, the National Students’ Union has been organising actions against the high tuition fees. The union has started an online petition and is demanding that the rate is reduced immediately. Although the NSU has not said precisely how much it wants the fees reduced by, it does refer approvingly to GroenLinks’ election programme, which advocates a reduction of five hundred euros.

'The threshold is getting higher and higher'

Next year, the tuition fees will be in excess of two thousand euros. The increase can be attributed to the former Minister of Education Ronald Plasterk who, in 2007, needed money in order to counter the shortage of teachers and raise their salaries. He decided that tuition fees had to rise by a few dozen euros each year until the end of the 2018/2019 academic year. Consequently, in ten years, tuition fees have risen by 449 euros.

“The threshold for studying is getting higher and higher,” said the chairman Jarmo Berkhout. Furthermore, he also pointed out that not only had the basic student grant been abolished but that students’ housing costs had risen substantially. Currently, students face an average shortfall of 460 euros a month.