Visitors to The Hague’s Plein could find a group of academics sitting on stools and folding chairs in the shadow of the House of Representatives, with an open laptop on their laps. They actually didn’t even have time to protest, was the message of the petition they were presenting this day.

Both academic staff and students decided to draw attention to their plight because today the Dutch parliament will be debating the new education and research budget. It is the first budget drawn up by the freshly appointed government, and there was still plenty of opportunity to adjust it – or so the protesters hope.

The scholars would like to have a bigger budget so that they can reduce some of the pressure of work. Many academics suffer physical and psychological complaints because they need to work so hard – even during the weekends and when they’re on holiday, according to Rens Bod. The UvA professor launched the present petition, which has gained over 5,000 signatures.

The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) would also be handing over a petition. This was an initiative of the second-year student Sara van Dinther, who is enrolled in the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences Mathematics teacher training programme. The students believe it isn’t fair that even though they no longer have a basic grant, they aren’t given the same 50% reduction in their tuition fee enjoyed by the next batch of first-year students. The students have collected 64,000 signatures under the rallying cry ‘I’d also like a 1,000-euro discount on my tuition fee’.


First it was the academics’ turn to present their petition, followed by the students. Their audience was made up of MPs from both the larger and smaller parties. The parliamentarians accepted the petitions with a few polite words. Excellent timing, they noted.

Rens Bod in particular harried them with a range of shocking examples. In some cases, lecturers confess with tears in their eyes that they don’t even have time to read their students’ theses properly, he said. They quickly look over the work and then give it a final mark. “We’re short-changing our students with this approach,” he said.

A particular bugbear for Bod is the new austerity measure in the works for the education sector – dubbed an ‘efficiency reduction’ – which could run up to 183 million euros. That plan should be swept off the table, he said. “It would earn you so much goodwill,” he tried to make clear to the MPs. The protesters handed each MP a symbolic measuring cup filled with chocolate money.

Skeleton in the closet

While MP Harry van der Molen (CDA) understood the petitioners’ demands, the Ministry of Education (OCW) can’t afford to ignore the skeleton it has found in its closet. Van der Molen was referring to the deficit that had developed in OCW’s budget during the term of the previous VVD-PvdA coalition government, which was ‘too outgoing’ to handle it at the time. The present coalition has already reserved some extra funds, but the remainder has to be covered one way or the other.

And that is exactly what irked MP Frank Futselaar (SP) about this austerity measure. Because if you’re claiming that education can made more efficient, he said, you should also say how. “They could suggest wage cuts as far as I’m concerned, or cancelling certain degree programmes or they could tell institutions to stop embarking on adventures in China.”

Reduced tuition fee

The academics have high hopes that their petition will produce some result or other. But they are less sure about the impact of the students’ actions. It would take quite a few twists and turns before tuition fees are also halved for senior-year students.

The coalition parties have only hinted that they may extend the 50% reduction of the tuition fee for second-year PABO students to second-year students in all teacher training programmes. But it remains to be seen whether this pans out.


Sara van Dinther presented the petition herself. No, she doesn’t have any political ambitions, says the Mathematics student. She simply thought it wasn’t fair when she heard the news. “I didn’t even know what a petition was. My parents explained it to me.” But you can always go into politics later on, was her guess. “Paul van Meenen of D66 just told us that he also worked as a Maths teacher until recently.”

PVV’s Harm Beertema was also walking around Plein. In passing, he offered a journalist the following thought: “You know what the weird thing is? These students keep voting for the same parties nevertheless. They are getting exactly what they voted for.”

Futselaar (SP) must have similar thoughts occasionally, but he took a different view: “It’s a fact that students don’t vote based on their pockets.” His party was also in favour of keeping a basic grant. “Nevertheless, students didn’t come out for us in droves. They make other considerations besides. They’re worried about climate change, world peace, the economy. And apparently, the basic grant wasn’t a deal breaker for them.”


Today the House of Representatives will be meeting to discuss the new education and research budget. At that point, it will become clear how much room there still is for adjustments, and which cards the Minister has up her sleeve to placate the distressed scholars and students.