I had all the time in the world – not just to study, but also for ancillary activities and work in the community, experiences that have served me well throughout my life since. And all this without building up a mountain of debt while still young. The sky truly had no limit: I could study both History and Philosophy (which entitled you to an additional year’s grant in those days) as well as take courses in other cities. By comparison, the proposed new student grant system is laughable: a basic student grant of 110 euros (for students who live at home) or 275 euros (for those living away from home), supplemented by a maximum of 416 euros, on condition that you don’t incur any study completion delay.
12 questions and answers about the basic grant
The Dutch House of Representatives unanimously approved the reintroduction of the basic…
In 2015, the old student grant system was abolished following a back-room deal between the VVD, D66, PvdA and GroenLinks parties. In its place came the student loan system, which will now be abandoned in turn. How remarkable that such a major change, announced with much political fanfare at the time, is being rolled back within a decade. Back then, it wasn’t money that was the object: the student grant system that was affordable in 1989 was still affordable in 2015. After all, the country had only become wealthier. The abolition of the old student grant system was primarily an ideological choice made by political figureheads (Rutte, Pechtold, Samsom and Klaver) who had an entirely different notion of how education should be organised, with a bigger role for market forces and more risks.
The student loan is mainly an investment in yourself: you borrow money to develop yourself, so you that can start earning money down the line. The student grant, on the other hand, was more of an investment in society as a whole. It offered young people the opportunity to develop themselves and move into meaningful careers. If they ended up earning the big bucks, they had to pay more taxes, which we then invested into new student grants. It was an approach based on solidarity that gave young people like myself, from families where going to university wasn’t the norm, more options to learn to stand on their own two legs. In 2015, as a member of parliament for the SP, I was angry with like-minded ‘left-wingers’ like Samsom and Klaver, of whom I had hoped that they’d recognise the importance of solidarity and the need for emancipation.
As a grant that allows you to study, the student grant should make students financially secure and not force them to take on all kinds of jobs on the side. It should also give them enough time and scope to study multiple degree programmes and take supplemental courses at other universities, without taking on debt or fearing that they’ll need to pay everything back later. This is not what the new student grant system does. At best, it’s a half-baked scheme. A student grant system that’s fit for purpose isn’t a question of money, but an ideological choice. How we organise it determines what kind of higher education we want and which role higher education will play in society. Should an academic education primarily benefit the individual or society at large? The proposed pittance of a few dozen euros a month may seem like an improvement, but is neither one thing nor the other.
Ronald van Raak is professor of Erasmian values