The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science complied with this request, asking its own officials if they had ever felt uncomfortable when passing legislation (the ‘uncomfortable criterion’). They came up with 64 ‘bottlenecks’. At the same time, citizens and schools put forward an additional 24 via an Internet consultation.

According to the Ministry, 15 of these bottlenecks can actually have a harsh impact on citizens. Eight of them relate to primary and secondary education, and seven relate to student finance.

Student finance

According to the Ministry, four of these seven harsh points have already been resolved by new policy from the Education Executive Agency (DUO). Until recently, for example, DUO imposed an administrative fine of 50 per cent for misuse of the housing grant as standard, while the law states that the fine is a maximum of 50 per cent.

Another improvement concerns the forgiveness of overdue student debt: such debt is no longer only forgiven after a statutory process, but also after an amicable debt restructuring scheme in which a municipality mediates with all creditors.

Writs of execution

In addition, DUO no longer issues new writs of execution with the Central Judicial Debt Collection Agency if someone with problematic debts has had all kinds of collectors knocking at their door for years.

Another change: people who have a residence permit for medical treatment are once again entitled to receive student grants and loans. Following an adjustment of the Aliens Act, this option was wrongly denied to them, according to a 2021 ruling by the Central Appeals Tribunal.

A fifth bottleneck concerns the additional income limit for students in senior secondary vocational education. This will be abolished in the bill governing the reintroduction of the basic student grant in higher education. The Ministry is still looking for solutions to the two remaining harsh points. DUO would like to forgive student debt in some cases, but this is currently not allowed. As a result, there is not enough scope for customised solutions.

There is also a problem with determining the income from abroad of former students and parents. This can have major consequences for their monthly repayments and for the amount of the supplementary grant. DUO and the Tax and Customs Administration must come up with a way to address this.

Unlucky students

The majority of the 88 bottlenecks were not considered ‘harsh’ by the Ministry. This includes the higher debt among the so-called ‘unlucky students’ who did not receive the basic student grant between 2015 and 2023. “Study finance is an accessibility tool”, the Ministry writes, and, “the student loan system also served that purpose.”

To determine what does or does not qualify as harsh, the Ministry used a definition from research firm Panteia: “There is said to be a harsh effect when the lives of (groups of) citizens are (potentially) disrupted by the actions of the government.”

Alarming

MP Jeanet van der Laan, higher education spokesperson for D66 and co-initiator of the motion, says it was ‘alarming’ that these harsh points were part of the study finance system. “D66 believes it is paramount to have an empathetic system in which current and former students can count on personalised services if necessary, so it’s good to see that the findings are being taken seriously. Well done.”

She will, however, keep a critical eye on what the Minister plans to do about the two bottlenecks that have yet to be resolved. “For me, financial capacity calculation and debt forgiveness are two important issues that can make a real difference in someone’s life.”

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