Özdil made his remarkable statements during an interview with the daily Trouw published last Saturday. In it, the higher education spokesperson for GroenLinks’s members in the Dutch House of Representatives criticised the “broken promises” of the previous and present coalition government.
According to Özdil, GroenLinks supported the cancellation of the basic student grant in 2015 on the condition that there would be a decent supplemental grant, that tuition fees and interest on student loans would be kept low and that the many millions of euros in savings would be ploughed back into better education. Very little has come of these plans, in the MP’s view. The only thing standing in the way of an interest hike on loans for new students is the Dutch Senate. And so far, the previously promised ‘pre-investments’ in better education have failed to materialise.
Özdil doesn’t offer a concrete alternative to the “antisocial” loan system. But then he embraces the principle that education is a right – not something you can only enjoy after taking on debt. He is somewhat sympathetic to a proposal made by GroenLinks’s youth organisation Dwars, which allots students ‘a reasonable monthly amount” combined with zero tuition fees. They would be expected to pay back the costs later on according to their means via regular taxation.
“One thing’s for sure,” Özdil says in Trouw, “a loan system undermines everything that democracy and civilisation stand for.” He claims that we can already observe stagnation in senior secondary vocational education (mbo) and senior general secondary education (havo) students’ progression to higher professional education (hbo). While Özdil attributes this to a growing fear of debt, there are other factors at play too, according to research performed last year. The lower marks earned by havo students, for example; or improved career opportunities for mbo graduates.
The MP is considering submitting a motion this week in which he calls on fellow representatives to cancel the loan system: “It might make it through – you never know.”
A GroenLinks spokesperson declined to say whether the party was taken unawares by Özdil’s statements. “In response to a motion submitted by Dwars, it was decided during a party conference that we need to present alternatives to the current loan system. We’re putting a lot of work into this and expect to have a proposal ready before the summer. I have nothing to add for the moment.”
Tax for academics
Özdil’s interview was enthusiastically received by local Dwars chapters on various social media sites. Compared to other youth organisations, including CJDA, Dwars has always been quite cautious when it came to rejecting the loan system. For years, GroenLinks has been calling for the introduction of a ‘tax for academics’. In this arrangement, students receive a base income (regardless of their parents’ income) rather than a grant – which would have to be repaid. The costs of this system would be covered by requiring academics to surrender a percentage of their income to the government coffers.
Former Dutch Student Union (LSVb) Chair and influential GroenLinks party member Maarten van Poelgeest saw the new loan system and the support expressed by party leader Jesse Klaver as an important step in the right direction. Because in this system too, former students would be expected to repay the loan according to their means. “We’re getting close to the ideal,” said Van Poelgeest in a 2014 interview with HOP. For the moment, it remains unclear whether GroenLinks’s alternative to the current loan system will be markedly different to the aforementioned tax for academics.