Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf had various plans in the pipeline, yet the government collapse may hamper their implementation. According to students and educational institutions, some topics cannot wait. But which ones?
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Binding study advice
Dijkgraaf wants to reduce performance pressure by relaxing the binding study advice (BSA). According to this proposal, students would only have to obtain thirty credits in their first academic year, and then thirty more in the subsequent year.
Universities are hoping that the House of Representatives will declare the plan ‘controversial’. In that case, the House of Representatives would not take a vote on the proposal, meaning it would be carried forward until after the elections. “The fact is that we think the plan is a bad idea”, says spokesman Ruben Puylaert of umbrella association Universities of the Netherlands (UNL).
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By contrast, the Dutch National Student Association ISO strongly hopes that the rules will be relaxed. “It can really be a factor in reducing the performance pressure on students”, ISO chair Demi Janssen believes. But she has other arguments, too. For example, relaxation of the rules would also save students money. After all, they would no longer waste an academic year due to a binding study advice.
According to Elisa Weehuizen, chair of the Dutch Student Union LSVb, her organisation shares this view. “The plans really are a step in the right direction. However, there is a chance that they are taken off the table and that would really be a huge setback.”
The largest government party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), is indeed rather critical of the plans. In fact, it was questionable from the outset whether Dijkgraaf would succeed in getting his proposal through the House of Representatives unscathed. It would therefore seem inevitable that the topic will be declared ‘controversial’.
Universities of applied sciences, on the other hand, have a less strong opinion on the issue. They do not think the proposal is all that bad and are prepared to go along with it. Therefore, they will not be seizing the opportunity to speak out against the plan.
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To make student influx from abroad more manageable, universities have been asking for ‘control instruments’ for years. Such instruments could include, for example, an enrolment quota for the English-language variant of a study programme and an ‘emergency brake’ in case too many students from outside Europe wish to enrol in a programme.
UNL spokesperson Puylaert: “According to the latest schedule, the earliest opportunity for us to be able to apply those instruments would be in the 2025-2026 academic year. We sincerely hope that the House of Representatives is willing to make sure that we can use the instruments by then, because otherwise it will be yet another year before we can regulate student influx.”
Students would also like the House of Representatives to keep the issue on the table. “Lecture halls are overcrowded and the workload is high, so we need to be able to manage student influx more effectively”, says Janssen (ISO). “We can then also establish what a particular institution or region needs.”
“We hope the issue will not be declared controversial”, Weehuizen (LSVb) agrees. “Municipalities and institutions are running out of capacity. The discussion about internationalisation is a difficult one anyway, so we should not put it off.”
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The current plans for internationalisation include rules on the language of instruction and ‘central management’. Universities are less enthusiastic about these aspects. They would rather see the plans deferred for the time being.
The LSVb prefers not to cherry pick in the debate on internationalisation. Weehuizen: “We can agree with the Minister’s language policy, but we are critical about other aspects. For example, we oppose the emergency brake for non-European students. You simply cannot make that kind of distinction.” According to the LSVb, the most important thing is that the discussion continues.
The ISO, in particular, lists a variety of other issues that should be kept on the table as far as students are concerned. One of these issues is improving student representation. Janssen: “There are four motions on the table, including a motion on guidelines for compensation and facilities. We hope that these will be implemented.”
There is a chance this could just go ahead: almost the entire House of Representatives is in favour of establishing guidelines. Moreover, this does not require a legislative amendment.
According to the ISO, the Ministry should also continue working on the legislative proposal for flexible learning (i.e. studying at your own pace and paying per credit). The House of Representatives recently called for this measure as well. “To certain student groups, such as informal carers or student entrepreneurs, a flexible learning option could be of added value”, Janssen says.
Still, it could be declared controversial, or perhaps the Minister himself will apply the brakes. Dijkgraaf wanted to review flexible learning as part of a major ‘foresight study’. It remains to be seen to what extent he will respond to all the findings of the research agencies involved.
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Dijkgraaf has also announced stricter laws and regulations aimed at ensuring social safety at research universities and universities of applied sciences. For example, the Executive Board should report any suspicion of sexual violence by a staff member against a student. Currently this is compulsory only if the student is a minor. Additionally, educational institutions will soon no longer be able to impose an obligation of silence when settling with victims.
That is, if it all goes ahead. The ISO hopes the House of Representatives will not interfere and give the outgoing Minister room to make the necessary arrangements. “Students need to feel supported”, says Janssen.
The House of Representatives is on recess until 4 September. During the debate on the government collapse, it became clear that the House does not want to decide which topics are ‘controversial’ until then. The parties will therefore have more time to think about this. It also means that lobbyists still have almost two months to express their views. The various Parliamentary committees will discuss the topics mentioned above in the first week of the new session, with the official vote being held in the week of 12 September.