1. International students: what is the language policy, and how many international students do you manage to attract to The Netherlands?
More and more higher education courses are in English, especially in the universities. There are also increasing numbers of international students coming to the Netherlands. Not all of the political parties are happy about this.
Some parties oppose the ‘Anglicisation’ of higher education; they believe that students learn more if they are taught in their native language. Others view the arrival of international students with reservations; should you actively recruit them?
Legally speaking, universities and institutes of higher education must each have their own ‘code of conduct’ for teaching in other languages. When should you change the teaching language and when should you not? It turned out that not all of them had such a code of conduct in place. The CDA and SGP parties wanted the Education Inspectorate to enforce this and submitted a motion to this end.
A large section of the House of Representatives is considering the prospect that too many international students will come to the Netherlands in the near future. The capacity of higher education to bear these increases is finite. The SP submitted a motion at the end of 2019 to limit active recruitment of students from abroad.
2. Student debt for unlucky students: concessions for all unlucky students, or only for some of them?
The basic student grant did not make a comeback in this coalition period. But what about the first students who missed out on the basic student grant and still did not receive a better education? They are also called ‘de pechstudenten’ – the unlucky students. Can the government do anything for them?
Unlucky students will receive a voucher of about two thousand euros to follow further education within five to ten years after graduation. Preposterous, according to many parties. You have only just started your career five to ten years after you have graduated. Maybe you have young children. In that case, you are not likely to be at all interested in pursuing further education.
CDA, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks and SP suggested that those unlucky students should be given a deduction on their study debt instead. Can the government come up with a plan for this?
Some unlucky students
In the run-up to receiving the revenues from the new student loan system, universities of applied sciences were supposed to dig deep into their pockets to improve the quality of their education. At least, that was the deal. But little came of these ‘pre-investments’ at many of these institutions, as the Netherlands Court of Audit revealed.
A substantial cross-section of the House of Representatives believes that this unfair to those unlucky students at these institutions. Come up with a plan to compensate them, CDA, PvdA and GroenLinks told the Dutch cabinet.
3. Quality: should we crack the whip, or instead just hire enough teachers?
How do you make sure that studies will keep on doing their best for their students? Some say: Crack the whip and make rock-hard agreements. Others think that you simply have to give lecturers (and administrators) the space to provide high-quality education as they see fit. Any eventual problems they will sort out themselves.
With the advent of the new student loan system, this difference in viewpoint has become even more conspicuous. Without a basic study grant, studying has become thousands of euros more expensive. Except that the idea was that students would receive a better education in return. Higher education institutions and universities had to make special ‘quality plans’ in order to qualify for the bursary millions.
But drafting these plans did not go so well; many educational institutions initially failed to pass muster with the NVAO, the Dutch education inspectorate. Then came the corona crisis and institutions had something else on their minds besides setting down quality plans on paper. The minister gave them a year of respite. Consequently, higher education received that extra money, with or without any sound plans. At least threaten universities and higher education institutions that they will have to pay back the extra money if their ‘quality plans’ are not subsequently approved, VVD and GroenLinks urged the Minister. Opponents found this outrageous: ‘How can you, in these times of unprecedented levels of work pressure, place extra demands on well-meaning institutions?’
Perhaps there is no need to strictly control quality levels, as long as the studies have enough teachers. But what constitutes ‘enough’? That question is related to another subject: The financing of higher education, which a special committee is currently examining.
Which is why the SGP submitted a motion. The enquiry into the financing of higher education should also specify ‘reasonable standards’ for the number of students per lecturer. Otherwise, you can never determine how much money is actually enough.
4. Selection: should we do away with the binding study advice, or should selection be stepped up?
Should you refuse some students at the gates of higher education? Or send them away after a year of study, or even after that? Few subjects cause such heated debates as selection in higher education. Some see selection as a diabolical instrument that perpetuates inequality. While others want to utilise it to improve the quality of education and compel students to give their very best. Two interesting motions were put to the vote last autumn.
Abolish the BSA
Should you kick out first-year students if they have not earned enough credits by the end of the year? Or do you then have a lack of compassion for young people who find the transition to higher education somewhat difficult? Are young people able to assess for themselves whether they are going to gain their diploma? Or should the institution be able to send them away in good time?
GroenLinks appeared to have scored a victory. A large number of the dismissed first-year students will just follow the same study somewhere else, but then with an additional study delay in tow. Which is frustrating for them and it is also a waste of money, according to the party. The minister should enter into talks with universities to change the binding advice into a non-binding advice. In other words: Abolish the BSA
The VVD did not give in and came up with a ploy. Everyone wants students to complete their studies successfully. As such, the BSA is just one of the instruments to achieve that. If the minister is going to talk about that, then she should also talk about “admission and selection before and during the study.” In other words: Long live the selection process.
STEM studies: Innovation? Don't forget about the humanities
Money is scarce, so how do you divvy it up? This government decided to shift a substantial part of the budget to STEM studies at the expense of other disciplines. The four ruling parties voted as a block, even as the entire opposition tried to tone down that dispensation.
Nevertheless, some parties felt something tugging at their conscience: What about small, vulnerable courses such as Dutch, and will the medical sciences receive less money now too? They wanted to come up with something.
Some extra money was made available for a ‘sector plan’ in the social sciences and humanities. But social sciences are much bigger than those vulnerable ‘humaniora’. Would smaller disciplines such as theology and Dutch be allocated enough scope in this plan? The Minister should pay special attention to this, argued ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP and CDA.
National Growth Fund
But wait a minute, the government wants to spend billions on knowledge, innovation and infrastructure to boost the future ‘earning power’ of the Netherlands. Is there a pot of gold in sight for the disciplines that are stuck in someone’s bad books? GroenLinks and D66 filed a motion. They reasoned that the humanities, social and medical sciences make an ‘unparalleled contribution’ to society and therefore requested that the cabinet ‘explicitly include’ these disciplines in the exploratory scrutiny of the growth fund.
6. Corona: and end to delays, an end to the BSA?
Some students are able to cope with the corona crisis more easily than others. At the beginning of this year, everyone was in favour of a plan to remedy inequalities and help those who fell behind in their studies. Corona also put the binding study advice back on the agenda.
Inequality of opportunity for schoolchildren and students is worsening during the corona crisis. A parliamentary motion submitted by D66 and CDA stated that the government must draw up a plan to redress the delays and inequality. No one seems to be opposed to this in January.
Bsa in the times of corona
Two months earlier, the House of Representatives discussed corona and the binding study advice. D66 and GroenLinks contended that the BSA should not be fully enforced in this exceptional academic year, if only because some students are having a harder time than others. Universities, just like universities of applied sciences, should therefore loosen the BSA edicts. The universities would indeed take that decision later on, but the political establishment did not know that at the time.
7. Diversity: diverse people or coloured opinions?
So, how come women and people with an immigrant background are less likely to make it to the upper echelons of higher education and universities? You may well think: Quality is the only thing that counts. Yet there seem to be other mechanisms at play that put these groups at a disadvantage. What should the government do? Impose conditions or trust that quality will rise to the top of its own accord?
Towards the top
The PvdA, D66 and GroenLinks believe that the workforce in higher education should be more representative of broader society. More women and people with an immigrant background ought to be appointed to the highest ranks of universities. The word ‘quota’ does not actually appear in the motion, but the cabinet should make ‘proposals’ to promote diversity..
Independent science generates another form of diversity: All sorts of opinions should be able to have a place at university. But controversial speakers are not always given the opportunity to express their views at universities. VVD and CDA believe that universities and knowledge institutes should ‘prevent and curb’ self-censorship and ensure that the diversity of perspectives in science is not compromised.
In the voting results, we have left out one-person political parties. For the purposes of this article, we were able to use the Dutch Parliamentary Behaviour Dataset compiled by Tom Louwerse, Simon Otjes & Cynthia van Vonno, which includes votes cast up until the summer of 2020.
- Parliamentary motions on the basic student grant have been left out of consideration; the coalition has voted as one block on these motions in recent years ↩︎