One thing was clear from the first exit polls on Wednesday evening: Caroline van der Plas and her BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB) have won many votes. This will have consequences not only for the provinces, but also for the Senate.
In the Senate, after all, the government already has a minority. This minority will now be even smaller. The government is expected to retain 24 of the 75 seats and must receive support from opposition parties for each legislative proposal.
With an expected 16 seats, BBB could help them to achieve a majority, but the joint Senate faction of GroenLinks and PvdA (eight plus seven seats) could do the same.
Not much is likely to change for higher education and scientific research. It seems that Minister Dijkgraaf and the coalition will be able to continue their course relatively unhindered.
The basic grant will return in September. None of the parties voted against the legislative proposal, and this will not happen in the Senate either. Although the opposition has all kinds of objections to the choices made by the cabinet, it considers the grant to be a step forward and does not want to risk objections leading to its postponement.
In the area of student finance, BBB fits in well with the left-wing parties anyway. Caroline van der Plas called the loan system a big mistake and thinks that the basic grant should be higher. In her opinion, the low compensation for the ‘unlucky students’ amounts to little more than ‘a tip’.
She even linked financial concerns and tight student finance to the number of suicides among young people. Partly because of this, she considers a higher basic grant important and does not want to ‘argue about financial cover’. “You could also get the financial cover from the future, because suicide costs society a total of 5 billion euros per year”, she said in a parliamentary debate. “Of course I’m not saying that an increase in the basic grant would prevent all suicides, but we must not simply ignore the concerns of young people about their finances.”
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Politically speaking, internationalisation in higher education is a relatively tricky subject. A lot of students from outside the Netherlands come to the universities. The right-wing parties in particular, including BBB, want to quickly introduce measures to stem the flow.
BBB (like the SP and CDA, for example) also voted in favour of a PVV motion to restore Dutch as the language of instruction in all university bachelor’s programmes, with some exceptions. However, this motion did not get a majority.
In the area of knowledge security, Van der Plas supported Forum for Democracy’s proposal to ban Chinese students and researchers from all sensitive knowledge domains. PVV and SGP also voted in favour of this.
However, BBB is not necessarily against internationalisation. Van der Plas advocated better public transport for students in the border regions, for example. These students sometimes fall through the net and are unable to use either the Dutch public transport student card or its German and Belgian counterpart, she said. In a motion, she asked the government to provide an ‘attractive and cross-border public transport travel product for this group of students’.
More housing is required for students, and others. It is sometimes difficult to build more housing because of the nitrogen law. BBB has a simple solution for this: change the law. “This legislation has the Netherlands in a stranglehold: it hampers construction, industry, agriculture and traffic and transport.”
But other parties, also in the government, regard nitrogen as a danger to nature. The housing shortage among students will therefore have to be solved in a different way.
Higher and lower education
In the education sector, Van der Plas is keen to promote vocational education and training at MBO level. She also opposes the terms ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in education. But that is not an issue on which the cabinet will suffer damage in the Senate.