But sometimes politics is more appearance than reality, and that certainly applies to the two motions on the basic student grant Parliament adopted last week during the General Political Review. Despite these motions, a new basic student grant is still a long way off.
What’s more, there hasn’t really been any change. It’s been clear for quite some time that a comfortable majority want to dispose of the current loan system. You could read this in the election programmes. Only the VVD still thinks the loan system is fine the way it is.
The current government won’t do anything with the motions passed in the House, so the next government will end up with this issue on its plate. Ultimately, various groups will have to come to the table to agree on a compromise. What might the result look like?
Let’s keep in mind why the basic student grant was abolished by GroenLinks, PvdA, D66 and VVD in the first place. Their idea was that those with a higher education will have more opportunities on the job market, and so would easily be able to pay back a loan. Why should a butcher help pay for someone who is studying to be a lawyer?
It turned out not to be so simple. After all, not everyone becomes a lawyer; young teachers and nurses also run up student debt, and they really don’t earn very much. And besides, it’s rather expensive for parents with middle class incomes to support children who are studying at university.
And so it has turned out just as the critics predicted: because of the risk of running up considerable debt, some young people no longer want to take the leap into higher education. Fewer students from MBO are enrolling.
Therefore, GroenLinks, PvdA and D66 have backtracked. But little has changed regarding their ideals. Their line of reasoning still holds for the lawyer, while students with rich parents also surely have no reason to complain about the disappearance of the basic student grant.
Former PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher didn’t want to re-introduce a new student grant for everyone, only for young people from families with an ‘ordinary income’. And the other parties might also be able to live with that. The CDA, for example, wants to introduce an ‘income-dependent basic student grant’. GroenLinks also has some kind of ceiling on income in mind.
This still leaves us with enough questions. What will the politicians decide about the supplementary grant? And what happens with students who have missed out on the basic student grant since 2015? The cost can easily run into the billions and a compromise won’t be found right away.
In addition, the VVD remains the largest party and presumably Mark Rutte will stay on as Prime Minister, so that party will also have to be able to live with it. The new system of student funding will be written into the coalition agreement and the VVD will want to keep the sums as low as possible.
Maybe they won’t even be able to take a decision on the issue during the coalition negotiations; the talks are already in rough water. An old political trick is to set up an advisory committee. The committee will calmly review all the possibilities for student funding. Ministers will then respond, whereupon the House of Representatives will debate the topic. Then a draft bill will follow.
Before you know it, two years have gone by. Moreover, the Education Executive Agency DUO will have to implement the new system of student grants in its IT systems. If you keep the new grant simple, the process will be faster, but nonetheless you could easily lose a year.
Conclusion? It’s going to take a while, and it’s highly likely the basic student grant for everyone won’t be making a comeback. Probably we will see a grant for students from families with incomes up to a certain level, for example 100,000 euros. The higher the income, the lower the grant.
It’s also not at all self-evident that students and former students will be handed compensation for having missed out on the basic student grant. Should you be giving money to someone who doesn’t have any student debt? Or to someone who mindlessly took out a loan for the maximum amount? And should you be compensating students from wealthy families, or do you take a pass on that and afterwards go over all parents’ income with a fine tooth comb? It’s a Herculean task.
At the expense of whom?
And where will all that money come from? Thanks to cutting the basic student grant, the government was able to allocate extra funding to higher education. The parties don’t want to tinker with that, but perhaps they will apply some kind of “efficiency reduction” or some other cost-cutting measure.
Or perhaps politicians will make spending cuts elsewhere. We have to wait and see what happens with the student public transport pass, and who knows, maybe they will raise tuition fees, if only for specific programmes. Not so long ago some of the parties thought it would be a good idea to fine those students who remain enrolled for many years—extra tuition for slow students.
To be brief, don’t uncork that champagne bottle yet. It’s true that the House of Representatives wants a new basic student grant, but it will be a long time before it sees the light of day, it’s unclear what it will cost, there’s no way all students will be eligible and compensation for current students is still up in the air.