This was an exceptional year for the two organisations that lobby for student interests in The Hague. Though they can now celebrate the reinstatement of the basic student grant, they also found themselves having to explain again and again why inflation creates so much hardship for students.

At the same time, they had to deliberate over issues from the binding study advice to student welfare to the internationalisation of higher education. Speaking of which, isn’t it time to start thinking about recruiting an international student to their boards?

We joined Terri van de Velden (age 24) of the Dutch National Student Association (ISO) and Joram van Velzen (age 25) of the Dutch Student Union (LSVb) to reflect on their time in office now that they have both stepped down.

The big news this year was of course the return of the basic student grant. How did you celebrate?

Joram: “Obviously, we were pleased. We had a party at the LSVb with everyone involved in the campaign. We went roller-skating together.”

Terri: “Oddly enough, when the bill finally made it through the Senate, it felt like an afterthought. I remember calling Joram up about something and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, congratulations!’ Even though we had spent a whole year on it. Bringing it back was such a burden on both our organisations for such a long time.”

J: “Which is not to say that what we’re getting is all sunshine and rainbows.”

Students who lost out under the loan system will be getting 359 euros for each missed year. Is that a defeat for you?

T: “While it is nice that there will be some kind of compensation, it’s no secret that it could have been better.”

J: “That’s also part of the problem. It’s not real ‘compensation’ as the amount is not proportionate to what the loan system generation lost out on. Like Education Minister Dijkgraaf has said, it’s a gesture, but that’s all. And this is it – it’s not going to change, so we are upset about that. I’ve heard a lot of students say: you can shove your 1,400 euros. They’re entering the housing market with sky-high debts preventing them from competing with the happy few who don’t. Personally, I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to buy an apartment. Renting is hard enough.”

The war in Ukraine has caused massive price rises. The government responded with an energy allowance that didn’t extend to students. How did those discussions play out?

J: “The government shouldn’t categorically exclude students. I met with Minister Schouten for Poverty Policy to discuss this but she wouldn’t give an inch. If there is no political will, it’s up to you to make it happen. So we got together with 120 students and filed lawsuits. We have won them all so far.”

Both of your organisations represent students. Do you see each other as colleagues or rivals?

J: “I see Terri as a friend. We have a great rapport. Even if we are very tough on each other occasionally. And it’s also good, because our organisations focus on different aspects.”

T: “How nice of you, Joram! I actually like that friction between the LSVb and ISO. Joram is just a great guy. And for all the times he annoyed me, we’ve had a lot more fun together. We often joked about how busy we were. It was nice, too, as we saw each other around 80% of the time we spent in Utrecht and politicking in The Hague. Maybe more than members of our own organisations.”

Image credit: Leon Cronte

Should you have spent more time talking with your own constituencies? When Minister Dijkgraaf wanted to relax the binding study advice, four local student councils were opposed. Yet, doesn’t the ISO represent them?

T: “We represent 44 student councils and want to come out with a shared vision. But it’s not always easy. We can spend whole evenings debating issues before voting on a position. This was the first time local councils publicly announced a dissenting position. Although I was surprised at first, in hindsight maybe the differences were just too big. I think because the BSA and experiences with it varied so widely from one institution to another. Councils opposed to relaxing the rule were at institutions whose systems worked better than elsewhere.”

There were many climate occupations in higher education again this year. Activism is in LSVb’s blood. Didn’t you want to get involved?

J: “Actually, I think it’s brilliant when actions get off the ground without us. We did voice our disapproval of the aggressive response by riot police to the occupations and were also displeased about the role administrators played. However, the LSVb has to prioritise. We had to pull out all the stops to get the basic student grant through, and there were other issues as well that we couldn’t afford to lose sight of.”

Internationalisation is another contentious issue. Minister Dijkgraaf wants to cut the number of international students and English-language programmes. Is this good news or bad? You represent all students, after all, including internationals.

T: “We always pride ourselves on being such an open country, so if you come to a point where you have to say ‘we don’t want you’, that hurts. At the same time, we aren’t blind. There are too many students, and education is suffering because of it. That’s a dilemma.”

J: “Yes, I agree, and it’s why I think getting a handle on the number of students coming here will help.”

Is it time to recruit an international student to your organisational boards?

J: “Our local unions have growing numbers of international student members, so it stands to reason this would come up in the LSVb, too. We are thinking more about the language we use, and English is increasingly becoming the standard. This question also applies more broadly, in that the board should be open to students who deviate from the norm. I think it would be brilliant if the LSVb were to be chaired by a student with a disability or a foreign student one day.”

T: “We translate all of our documents into English. But there are still all kinds of obstacles keeping international students from becoming active at the national level. Ministerial policy documents are not translated into English, for example. Politicians speak Dutch.”

What’s next, now that you have wrapped up your board terms?

J: “Until January, I’ll be working on finishing my degree.”

T: “I just graduated and am about to go on a long holiday to Mexico, and will be thinking hard about what I really want to do.”

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