No noticeable difference can be observed in regular universities, but universities of applied sciences are reporting that the number of prospective students enrolling in degree programmes is lower than it was at this time last year. Universities of applied sciences believe that the dip in enrolments is due to the fact that student grants will be reintroduced.

The study grant will return in September 2023. But what will happen to students who embark on a degree programme in 2022? Will they miss out on several years’ worth of grant money, or will they be required to take out a loan for one year before receiving a grant for the rest of their time at uni? Universities of applied sciences believe that these are the questions that prospective students want to see answered before enrolling.

Peter Kwint, an MP representing the Socialist Party, asked Minister for Education Robbert Dijkgraaf (D66) why he is not providing any such clarity just yet. ‘Does the minister understand that many pupils may decide to take a gap year?’ he asked.

‘Does not say much’

Dijkgraaf started by putting the figures into perspective, saying that the dip in the number of provisional enrolments in universities of applied sciences (‘by 3.7 per cent, to be exact’) does not say much about how many students will actually embark on a degree in September. All sorts of things could happen between now and then, as the universities of applied sciences know all too well.

However, Dijkgraaf did say that he understood why MPs wanted more information on the student grant that is going to be reintroduced. “I’m confident that I will be able to send you a preliminary legislative bill soon. Probably this Friday,” he said. “But I can’t tell you about those plans just yet, because they have to be discussed in the Council of Ministers first.”

Encouragement

Dijkgraaf did say that he would ‘keep a close eye’ on the number of enrolments and that he could come up with ‘several reasons’ as to why students might or might not want to embark on a degree programme at a university of applied sciences. So several MPs tried to get him to disclose a little more information. One of these MPs was Gert-Jan Segers, who represents ChristenUnie. “I would encourage the minister to provide clear information as soon as possible”, he said. “Because there are [prospective] students who are currently thinking: if I start a degree now, I won’t receive a student grant for four years, or even six years.”

“Thank you for these words of encouragement”, Dijkgraaf replied. “I completely agree with that. Naturally, I myself would like to provide clarity on that as soon as possible, too.”

For a moment it seemed as if he was providing a little sliver of clarity. “When we are able to announce more details of our proposal, we will undoubtedly make things easier for students”, the minister said.

Shortages

These words would seem to suggest that those first-year students who are to start a degree in the 2022-2023 academic year will receive student grants, as well, precisely to prevent a dip in the number of enrolments. Universities of applied sciences have been warning for a while about the risks posed by students deferring their enrolment for a year. Such a step would only make the shortages in fields such as nursing, education and STEM more serious.

Habtamu de Hoop, an MP representing PvdA, brought up another issue. If the number of students enrolling in degrees is low this year, but very high the year after, what will happen to lecturers’ workload? Dijkgraaf agreed that this was an interesting topic of conversation, but one about which he was not able to say much just yet. He promised he would soon send MPs another letter about the heavy workloads for both lecturers and students in higher education.