If it were up to the Cabinet, starting September, first-year students won’t pay 2,060 euro for tuition, but 1,030 euro. Those enrolling in teacher training will be receiving a similar discount for the second year.
With this gesture, which was announced in the new coalition agreement, the government wants to make up for the cancellation of the basic student grant (free money for students, a.k.a. ‘stufi’) in 2015. The discount is intended to lower financial barriers for prospective students with less financial resources and help resolve the present shortage of teachers.
According to the Council of State, however, it remains to be seen whether this measure will truly make higher education more accessible. After all, after an initial dip, student intake has recovered in the wake of the new loan system, and enrolments are more or less back at the old level. Nor have there been major changes to students’ borrowing behaviour.
“If most students apparently don’t experience sticking points when it comes to the accessibility of higher education, the question remains for which problem such a generic measure purports to offer a solution”, writes the Council of State. The council believes the financial benefits of this measure are limited – all the more so because for a student living away from home, the total cost of studying amounts to an average of 58,500 euro.
On top of which, the proposed legislation has a number of ‘snags when it comes to implementation’. For example, DUO won’t be able to adjust the maximum amount of tuition fee loans that students can borrow as of the 2018/2019 academic year, meaning that students will be required to repay possible ‘overdrafts’ at a later stage. According to the Council of State, it would at any rate be smarter to wait with the measure’s introduction.
The Education Minister does not agree with the criticism. According to Van Engelshoven, this discount will indeed contribute to accessibility: in her view, a thousand euro is a ‘significant amount’. And since the discount has a relatively large impact on the budgets of students who are less well off, it furthermore contributes to equal opportunity for this group.