Around two o’clock, several hundred people assembled in front of the building temporarily being used by the House of Representatives. Fresh-faced first-year students were on hand, but also students who have been studying longer than the set period, millennials with massive student debts and even ‘concerned parents’. They see the interest-rate hike as the latest of many affronts to a generation of students ‘who have been screwed over too many times already’.


In the crowd, political parties including BIJ1, Volt and SP are hard at work handing out flyers. The parties have even sent out their own ‘reporters’, so that they can express empathy for the unlucky students being filmed, who did not receive a basic student grant. Of course, one reporter emphasises, voting for their party will help.

There was already a great deal of commotion over the study-loan interest this week, as Elisa Weehuizen, Chair of the Dutch Student Union, also stressed in front of an audience of several hundred protesters. “If the politicians are already submitting motions to return the rate to zero, I confidently await what the future has in store.”


Beside her stand Yasmin Ait Abderrahman from FNV Young & United and politicians Nicki Pouw-Verweij (BBB), Habtamu de Hoop (PvdA), Edson Olf (BIJ1), Lilian Marijnissen (SP) and Frank Wassenberg (PvdD). They solemnly pledge to eliminate the interest as soon as possible.

The crowd goes wild and chants phrases like ‘zero interest, zero interest’ and ‘we’re the unlucky generation, we demand compensation’. But De Hoop is booed when he says it’s not possible to cancel the interest immediately. “We have to do our very best to freeze the interest rate next year and then, with support from Parliament, get rid of it.” He only just manages to win back the crowd’s favour by emphasising that he is the same age as most of the protesters and is also part of the unlucky generation.

Cardboard signs

21-year-old Bente is one of the protesters. Her cardboard sign reads: “Interest has to go, Bente says hello”. “The interest-rate hike feels like a slap in the face”, she says. Bente is studying Artificial Intelligence at the VU University Amsterdam and lives in student accommodations in Diemen. She owes 20,000 euros. “That’s not so bad, but the interest I’ll have to pay after graduation is.” Was she not aware that the interest might go up? “No, that was never communicated clearly to me, or else I would have borrowed much less.”

Utrecht resident and art-school graduate Reinier (35) marches carrying a banner with the text: “Social mobility is a farce with 100,000 euros up your arse.” When he was a student, he had to borrow a lot of extra money because of an illness, he says. “The increased interest truly came as a surprise to me; there’s no way I can pay it.” Couldn’t he have borrowed less? “Well, I really needed it at the time.” But aren’t the terms of repayment accommodating? “It doesn’t feel that way. I have to pay hundreds of euros a month toward my debt, even though I’m not able to work full-time.”

Master’s student Niels (24), who is studying Interactive Technology in Twente, was equally taken aback by how fast the interest rate went up. “We were all part of a failed experiment, but we shouldn’t have to pay the price.” But doesn’t it cost money to borrow money? “I don’t think I should be held responsible for my 20,000 euros of debt. I didn’t do it on purpose. If I knew then what I’d be going through now, I’d have thought about it more carefully.”


LSVb Chair Elisa Weehuizen finds it indefensible that interest rates are quintupling. But won’t students go on to earn a good salary that lets them pay back their loan and the interest with ease? “No”, Weehuizen says, “there are also plenty of highly educated people who don’t manage to find a good job – and they spend 35 years paying it off. And now there is interest on top of that, even though students didn’t know that ahead of time. That’s not fair.”

Minister of Education Dijkgraaf estimates that it will cost nine billion euros to cover the interest on the unlucky students’ loans. But won’t that burden fall on those with lower incomes? “That is certainly not the intention”, says Ait Abderrahman, president of FNV Young & United. “Take that money away from major corporations and not from people who will be hurt by losing it. Invest it in education and in the future – that’s what will benefit you most, as a country.”