The National Student Union and the Intercity Students’ Organisation feel that they were deceived when student grants were abolished. They fear that the quality of education will suffer. “A political usurious insurance policy is looming,” they wrote in an incendiary letter.

“Lecture rooms will continue to be packed to the rafters for the time being, we will drop in the top university rankings, and the millions we were promised after the abolition of student grants will not come to pass,” the student organisations predicted in their letter. According to their figures, students will not see the effects of the investments in education until 2021. Until that time, the education budget cuts almost equal the “additional” cash injections.

The two organisations based their predictions on data released by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. They show in graphs how much the government is spending annually per student. The number is shocking, particularly for university students. Per-student spending is presently €15,000 per year, down from €20,000 around the year 2000.

Different view

That is, if the figures are correct. It is hard to verify, but Statistics Netherlands presents a different view. According to Statistics Netherlands, the Dutch universities have, for many years now, received approx €9,000 per student for teaching purposes, plus another €14,000 for scientific research purposes.

The Ministry of Education presents a similarly even view. Its spokesperson referred us to the National Budget, which states that universities and universities of applied sciences will receive approx €6,800 per student for education purposes, which figure will go up to some seven thousand euros in the coming years.

Calculations are wrong

However, these calculations are wrong, says the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). Just take inflation, for starters – what do you do when everything gets more expensive and wages keep going up? VSNU adjusts for such matters in its calculations.

The Ministry does this too, VSNU explains, but in a way entirely its own: if the Ministry does not adjust its wages and prices for inflation, meaning it is actually reducing the budget, this cannot be gleaned from the official figures.

Expensive degrees

Other costs are rising too. For instance, the number of students taking expensive degrees – e.g. STEM subjects – is growing. Small wonder that VSNU has expressed its support for the students’ incendiary letter.

However, is the new student loan system really a “usurious insurance policy”, as the students fear? Last autumn the Lower House indeed complained a great deal about the Ministry of Education’s budget, which the MPs said contained all sorts of hidden budget cuts.

Students are afraid that “their” money will disappear, too. They are being forced to incur greater debts due to the new student loan system. This can only be justified if the quality of the degree programmes is actually improved. Which may require even more money than the sum gained through the abolition of student grants, considering all the price adjustments and budget cuts of the past.

Cabinet formation

The new Cabinet being formed may turn things around, and the students know this too. This is why they wrote their letter during the Cabinet formation period, and this is why they are trying to keep up the pressure.