Being a student in coronavirus times is far from ideal, so couldn’t the government give students an extra year tuition free? This was the question Jan Hol, Chairman of the Board of the Christelijke Hogeschool Ede, asked Prime Minister Mark Rutte this week in an open letter.

Support package

The call out had also come to the attention of GroenLinks and PvdA, as emerged this afternoon during a big debate in the House of Representatives on the coronavirus crisis. These two parties think it’s a good idea and support it.

Jesse Klaver of GroenLinks expects this will take a lot of pressure off young people. “Guarantee that people at MBO, HBO or university with study delays can do a year tuition free”, he said. “Then they know that they won’t have to make up the whole backlog of coursework on their own.”

The newly chosen leader of the PvdA, Lilianne Ploumen, asked government to come up with “a delta plan” for young people. Because their lives have been completely messed up, she said. “As far as I’m concerned, it should at the very least be included in the support package: one extra academic year, without extra costs, for all young people who need it.”

No taboos

In his answer, Prime Minister Rutte would not make any promises. Outgoing ministers Ingrid van Engelshoven and Arie Slob are working with the entire educational sector on a multi-year national plan to deal with missed learning and studying objectives, he explained. “There won’t be any taboos, including extending school or student enrolment periods. Mr Klaver’s suggestion is far-reaching, but we will nonetheless include it for consideration.”

Ultimately, GroenLinks and D66 brought forward a motion for an extra tuition-free year for students who are experiencing study delays due to the coronavirus crisis. In addition to the PvdA, according to the NOS, PVV, SP and ChristenUnie also support the proposal. That’s enough for a parliamentary majority.

Student organisations reacted positively to the news. But LSVb chair Lyle Muns was emphatic that even students who aren’t behind in meeting their requirements should get an extra year. “Because of the coronavirus crisis, students are missing out on income and missing an important part of their academic lives, while being saddled with lots of coursework to make up. This support package does something for students with a study delay, but most students fall between the cracks.”

It'll be a long time

GroenLinks also wanted to know when universities and colleges could get back to their campuses for socially distanced classes. Rutte had little to say on the topic. “We would like nothing better than that those forms of teaching could open up as quickly as possible”, he said. But for now, secondary schools are the priority.

 

Outgoing Minister of Health De Jonge was also unable to give a clear timeline for the re-opening of higher education. He could imagine that, for intensive testing, physical classrooms might again be possible, maybe even eventually without social distancing. “But it’ll be a long time before we get there”, he said.