For many hours, debate in the House of Representatives raged about the views and choices outlined by the Minister in her strategic agenda: lotteries for degree programmes, online lectures, other funding. not a topical item was left out.
But the most striking moment was the run-in between the VVD and Minister Van Engelshoven of D66. Liberal MP Dennis Wiersma wanted to know how many students are actually seeing quality improvements in higher education.
The basic student grant was abolished in order to boost higher education with hundreds of millions of additional funding. But what happened to all those great promises? The VVD fears that not all students are reaping the rewards. “I speak on behalf of all students who say: my education still leaves much to be desired.”
The complaint got on Minister Van Engelshoven’s nerves. Universities and universities of applied sciences all need to make ‘quality agreements’ with their student participation counsel, she explains. The quality watchdog NVAO (Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders) assesses compliance, as agreed. Some institutions have already been approved, others have not. This is all explained on the Ministry’s website.
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Wiersma pushed for an answer to the question of how many students will actually experience the benefits of the additional funds. These funds may go to additional computers for the library, mindfulness courses and more student psychologists, but who benefits directly from these additions? “Students come to me and say: I haven’t noticed anything.” He would prefer to ask students about it in the National Student Survey and give educational institutions a poor assessment if necessary. Some institutions that are performing especially poorly could then even be closed.
The Minister repeated that the information about the quality agreements is available online. She sarcastically offered to print all the plans for Mr Wiersma. But is it really the Ministry’s responsibility to find out how many students actually benefit? “I honestly don’t see the added value,” said the Minister.
She also explained that not all improvements can benefit everyone. For example, students will only know that there are more student psychologists when they need to see one.
What exactly constitutes good education anyway? The various parties in the House of Representatives have different opinions on this matter. Parties on the right of the political spectrum want to boost involvement from the job market in education: they say that degree programmes need to confer more with potential employers.
The initial selection process and lottery were also discussed: why would you always employ a selection process when there are not enough places available, asked Jan Paternotte of D66. Selection is not always useful and degree programmes are not always happy about the additional hassle involved. The Minister agreed and is happy to give the lottery system another shot.
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The cart before the horse
Opposition was mainly heard from the VVD. Wiersma warned that it would be putting the cart before the horse if we do not allow students with high grades easy access to degree programmes, leaving them at the mercy of the lottery system instead. The PVV also had some reservations: is it going to be a strict lottery (in or out) or will the system have some ‘gender and diversity’ bias?
All in all it seems the Minister’s strategic agenda does not appear to truly rub others the wrong way, and she is allowed to go forward with her plans. The House will vote on Tuesday about motions intended to slightly shift her course one way or the other.
Many plans still need to be finalised. For example, the Minister aims to keep universities of applied sciences in shrinking regions running by adding core funding. Frank Futselaar from SP wanted to know how this would work, and whether universities of applied sciences in other areas would be expected to contribute funding. The Minister openly admitted that she was not sure yet.