The government has promised that there will be a basic grant in higher education once again as per September 2023. In order to do this, Minister Dijkgraaf has to speed up the process of passing a bill through the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House of Representatives drew up a long list of questions about his bill. Minister Dijkgraaf sent his answers just before the Christmas holidays. The questions had certainly not knocked him off course.

The basic grant will soon be 275 euros for students living away from home and 110 euros for students living at home, and students will not receive it retroactively. The supplementary grant will be a maximum of 416 euros. These starting points have been widely discussed with parliament for a long time.

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So what did the minister answer when the SGP pointed out that children of multimillionaires will also receive the basic grant? Perhaps that would indeed not be necessary, but the government cannot do much with this kind of criticism at this point.

Tinkering with the bill would take too much time, explained Dijkgraaf. In order to introduce the basic grant as quickly as possible, ‘it has been decided to link up with the systems as they are already known to DUO’. In addition, the government does take income differences into account: there is a supplementary grant for students from less wealthy families.

Suppose you didn’t give a basic grant to students from families with an income above 100,000 euros, how much would you save as a result? An estimated 240 million euros per year, is the answer. But this potential cut will not be made.

Senior students

One of the sticking points is that current students fall partly under the loan system and partly under the basic grant. They will therefore receive fewer years of the basic grant, or even miss out on it altogether because they have been studying for too long. Many students had not thought about that, as it turned out this autumn.

GroenLinks wanted to know how much it would cost to give these students the grant anyway. That would involve some 270,000 students, said the minister, and the costs would amount to approximately 1.2 billion euros. But yes, that money would not be coming as far as he is concerned.

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Personal profit

Some students with a supplementary grant may become lawyers and earn a lot of money. So why should they not have to repay the supplementary grant? In his answer, Dijkgraaf once again explained the repayment rules, that take the income of the graduates into account: those who have little money will have less to pay off.

However, the supplementary grant will be converted into a gift upon graduation, and that applies to everyone. Dijkgraaf will not be changing this, also because it would be very complicated from a technical point of view.

Half tuition fees

When it comes to serious money that still needs to be allocated, the government is keeping its cards close to its chest. All will be revealed in the Spring Memorandum, is the answer. This mainly involves the ‘half tuition fees’ for first-year students, which will disappear in September 2024. This money was intended to be used to expand the supplementary grant.

This intervention will generate money immediately, however, whereas the costs of this expanded supplementary grant will only come years later, when students graduate and their supplementary grant is converted into a gift. So what should be done with this revenue in the meantime?

All kinds of destinations have been devised by the government and the various parties. Part will go to senior secondary vocational education (MBO), part is intended for knowledge security in higher education and research, and another large part is intended to go to students living away from home to help them with the increased energy costs. However, the government is not keen to immediately embrace this latter idea in particular. The House of Representatives can put forward a proposal, otherwise the government will propose something itself at the presentation of the Spring Memorandum (no later than 1 June).

Leaving MBO

The parties also challenged other things, such as the flow from MBO to higher professional education (HBO). Thanks to the new basic grant, MBO students are expected to take the leap to higher education more often. Is that desirable, asked the VVD political party, ‘now that there is a major shortage of skilled workers?’

The answer: “The government believes that students, regardless of their background or field of study, should be given full scope to develop themselves. In the range of training options available in the Netherlands, everyone should choose a route that is a good fit for them.”

Countering criticism

Dijkgraaf therefore counters possible criticism of his bill in three different ways: he says that it would be too complicated from a technical point of view to change anything now, that it would be too expensive, or that an adjustment is simply unnecessary.

The House of Representatives is still debating with him, but the argument of speed in particular will certainly carry weight. Although the opposition parties may be critical, they do consider the new basic grant a step in the right direction.

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