It is true that the Lower House’s education spokespersons discussed the enormous education stimulus package (worth €8.5 billion) with the Minister for Education in late February. This package includes a reduction in tuition fees by half in the 2021-2022 academic year.
“We’ve made an exception for first-year students attending higher education institutions this time,” Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said at the time, “because I’m optimistic about next year. I think we’ll have a nearly regular academic year by that time, with far fewer restrictions than this year.”
First-year students have not paid full tuition fees since 2017, anyway, having seen their tuition fees halved since 2018. Moreover, they have not been able yet to fall behind in their studies, while tuition fees have been halved precisely because students were falling behind in their studies. The Minister may have felt that halving tuition fees that had already been reduced by half was a bit much.
But in the end, this is the option the Minister did opt for, without any warning. It will cost the government some €100 million, but it will be a pleasant surprise to anyone who is embarking on a degree next year.
“It’s a lovely gesture,” says D66’s Jan Paternotte, an MP representing the Minister for Education’s party. “It’s also a nice gesture to all those secondary school students who had to sit their school-leaving exams during the pandemic, largely from home. I can understand why the Minister didn’t support a halving of tuition fees that had already been halved, but it’s going to work out very well for first-year students!”
Tuition fees for first-years will not be 1084 next year, but only 542 euros
Initially, freshmen seemed to fall outside of the temporary halving of tuition fees due…
The ChristenUnie party welcomed the news, as well. “When it comes down to it, it’s a consequence of the choices made,” says MP Eppo Bruins. “But it’s working out well.”
Bruins is looking ahead at the incoming government’s term. “We should not impose the burden of high student loan debts on the next generation,” he says. “This measure will ensure that students don’t get into even bigger debts, and in that way it will serve as a nice preparation for the return of student grants.”
Frank Futselaar of the SP opposition party likes the measure, as well. “We welcome every measure that makes getting a degree a little easier or cheaper for young adults.” However, he did point out that he is actually more concerned about the present generation of students. “Especially those groups who have fallen behind in their studies even more than usual because their work placements were cancelled, et cetera. I’d personally make allocating more funds to them a priority.”
It should be noted that many of these students will be granted €535 if they obtain their degrees this year, and those of them who will still attend a university next year will only have to pay half the usual tuition fees. However, Futselaar believes that this may not be enough for some of them. “I’d like to see an individual approach to very unlucky cases.”
Lisa Westerveld (GroenLinks) agrees. “This is a nice start for new students, who will hopefully receive regular classes again by that time,” she says. “But for those students who’ve made a huge effort to graduate this year, despite the pandemic, this allowance is not very generous. They were under a lot of pressure, lost their jobs and saw their work placements cancelled. The Minister should make an additional gesture to this group.”
First-year students had their tuition fees halved in 2018. Back in those days, CDA and ChristenUnie were in favour of reintroducing student grants, but VVD and D66 opposed that proposal. This was the compromise the parties came up with. The coalition parties hoped that reducing tuition fees would make it easier for students from less well-off families to get a degree.