It is not the first time that students express their dissatisfaction with the ‘meagre’ basic grant that will be introduced in September 2023. They also think that 1 billion euro compensation for their years in the loan system is too little. Especially because of the rising energy prices, the housing shortage and the interest on student loans that will probably drop to zero.
“Hey yo Sigrid Kaag, 1 miljard is veel te laag” (1 billion is way too low) and “Robbert is van onderwijs, is hij wel van boven wijs?” (Robbert is from education, is he of sound mind?), are the chants heard across the Dam Square. Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has ‘kindly refused’ to come to the protest, says LSVb president Ama Boahene. She calls it ‘disappointing that he is not coming to defend his policy’.
The political parties SP, DENK, PvdD, BIJ1 and VOLT are also present. Although they will not succeed in changing the course of the cabinet overnight, Sylvana Simons (BIJ1) admits: “We are mainly here to support the students.”
The message on the cardboard sign of 25-year-old Paula Romanaszyn is clear: ‘Give money’. If she had known that her study debt would rise to 50 thousand euros, she would not have started her psychology study at Tilburg University. “I would have done a shorter study, so that I could start working earlier”, she says. “Now I have to pay off the debt for the rest of my life. It makes me gloomy and sad about the future. I will never be able to buy a house on my own.”
Kalle Michielsen (20) travelled to the capital from Wageningen. He has a student debt of 40,000 euros, but ‘I am lucky that I am also sponsored by my parents’, he says. According to him, the policy creates unequal opportunities.
Ellen van der Graaf (57) agrees with the message. She came to Amsterdam on behalf of her student daughter. “My daughter already has 70,000 euros in debt and she still has to graduate. I cannot help her financially. That is where the pain is”, she says.
Anne Caljouw, Medicine student from Rotterdam, does receive financial help from her parents. They even came along to the protest. Yet, she also tried working alongside her studies and that did not end well, she says: “I stopped studying for a year because of all the stress and I also went to the mental health care services for treatment”. She picked up her studies again, because she wants to be a doctor, just like her parents, but she does regret not having been born earlier, because then she would still have received a basic grant.
After the protest on the Dam Square, the demonstrators march through the city centre carrying their placards and flags, encouraged by accompanying musicians. At the university library of the UvA, a small disturbance starts when about ten demonstrators dressed in black storm in, trying to occupy the building. “Come on guys! Just protesting doesn’t help”, they chant. However, they don’t get a lot of response and the police are quick to act.
Alex Janse (24), a computing science student at Utrecht University, joins the march to fulfil his ‘democratic duty’. He has a 48 thousand euro student debt and still has two years to study. But according to him, the problems for students are bigger than study debts alone. “A whole generation has been let down. Think of the housing market and the climate crisis as well.”
The protest ends back at the Dam Square. The students chant a few more slogans and then return home.