Do everything imaginable to avoid delays

The PvdA (Labour Party) had already wanted to set up a solidarity fund for vulnerable students, yet the minister does not view this as a good idea. “If I were to say: ‘Here’s a bunch of money right here, just in case you should be graduating but are dealing with delays’ – that won’t help those students get through their studies.” A great deal is already being done according to her. “We are doing everything we can to prevent them from running into unnecessary interruptions.”

If a group of students do end up graduating later next year on account of corona, the Cabinet is, of course, willing to see if their costs should be compensated, as was the case last spring. “This has not only been voiced here by me, but also by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. How many assurances do you want?”

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Hole in the budget

But is that money genuinely available? The CDA (Christian Democratics) pointed out to the minister that the influx into universities and higher educational institutions is expected to increase substantially. Doesn’t the minister already have a hole in her budget? And don’t all the educational institutions need extra support for guiding all those new students who are now mainly being taught online? This is what the GroenLinks (Green Left) party wants to know.

Minister Van Engelshoven has called for patience. She will only be able to say what the official intake will be in February. Plus, she is constantly checking whether or not these educational institutions are able to cope financially. But she did not dismiss offhand a motion from the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), and D66 (Democrats 66) to break the education quality terms and agreements and use a larger part of the student loan millions to improve online education.

Doubts about BSA

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The House supported her plan to offer MBO vocational students who have moved into HBO higher professional education more time to consider their options. They have been given a temporary reprieve until September 1 to be allowed to quit their studies without any major financial consequences. Van Engelshoven estimates that this will initially cost 5 million euros and ultimately 2 million euros per year. “That’s pretty manageable.”

She was also pleased that more and more parties in the House are questioning the Binding Study Advice (BSA). No one is any the wiser with all the needless and costly ‘pumping-out of students,’ in her opinion. She received a lot of criticism for her unanticipated proposal to drastically lower the BSA standard in 2018. But now the CDA and D66 are arguing for a ‘doorstroomnorm.’ A new standard which allows students to progress to the next year; meaning that those who fail to gain enough certain credits in the first year, can try again in the second year at the same institution.

GroenLinks did not think this was an entirely new proposal, given that even now students are sometimes allowed to catch up in the second year on subjects that they have missed. The party prefers that the study advice no longer be binding at all. The CDA thought this was a bit too forward-thinking, although the minister did have some sympathy for it.

Sky-high work pressure

The House wanted to know what the Minister is going to do about the sky-high workload that teachers and researchers have? In her view, “throwing down a bunch of money just like that” doesn’t help here either. She would like to tackle these work pressure problems in a structural way, but that is undeniably ‘a tough chore.’

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Again, she recognized that research funding has not kept up with the pace of rapidly expanding education. That is why she has requested that the exact amount of money needed by universities and higher education institutions be looked into. Van Engelshoven believes that the half billion extra that the Cabinet has already invested in science is not enough. “It is only by making further investments that we will be able to restore the balance between the first and second flow of funds and effectively address the problem of work pressure in higher education and research. Moreover, if university funding becomes less dependent on student numbers, this will eventually lead to greater confidence in educational institutions and (smaller) study programmes, better contracts for lecturers and researchers, and ultimately a lighter workload.”

Will the SP (the Socialist Party) therefore demand that the various educational institutions offer more permanent contracts, or will it simply remain a case of ‘calling on them when they’re needed?’ An interesting line of thought, the minister notes. “If a university manages to get onto a more solid footing, then you want scientists to be able to do that too. However, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how we’re going to do that next spring.”

The House of Representatives will vote on the motions this coming Tuesday.