In the House of Representatives, political parties constantly make decisions for or against certain motions and amendments. In the run-up to the general election on 22 November, we took stock of how the parties voted on the issues that affect students.
The images below show what parties voted against (red dot) and in favour (green dot) of the motion or amendment. They also show if the proposal was approved (‘aangenomen’) or dismissed (‘verworpen’).
The abundance of programmes in the Netherlands taught in English has led to a huge influx of international students. This brings with it certain advantages and disadvantages. A large number of motions on this issue have therefore been put to the House.
When can a degree programme be taught in English? If this is necessary due to the quality of education or due to the origin of the students. Should the government monitor this issue more stringently or is supervision not necessary?
“… requests that the government develop clear standards (…) and facilitate the publication and enforcement of these standards by the inspectorate…”
Getting international students settled
Once international students do come to the Netherlands – where are they supposed to live? Every year, we hear new, harrowing stories about students who are forced to live at campsites or have been made to pay extortionate prices. A majority of parties is in favour of giving the universities a greater degree of responsibility in housing these students.
“… requests that the government work with research universities and universities of applied sciences to ensure that institutions (…) are given a greater degree of responsibility in providing housing for these students…”
Please note the striking difference with the previous motion: the VVD has voted down the motion on this occasion, whereas D66 is in favour of the idea. Pieter Omtzigt also appears to have voted against the motion, although this must be a mistake, given that he was one of the parties who proposed the motion.
Reducing international student numbers
A number of politicians feel that the number of international students should simply be reduced. It was proposed that agreements should be made with research universities and universities of applied sciences to ensure that the numbers would be reduced to the levels of five years ago.
“… requests that the government enter into an administrative agreement with higher education institutions with a view to gradually returning to the levels of five years ago over a period of five years…”
This motion did not pass, but it was supported by both major and smaller parties on both the left and the right of the coalition.
Tuition fee for refugees
Students from distant countries, such as China and India, have to pay thousands of euros in institution tuition fees if they want to study in the Netherlands. But what about refugees? Ukrainians received a discount from research universities and universities of applied sciences for an entire year. However, many institutions have now scrapped their reduced rates.
“… requests that the government… establish a scheme under which refugee students and young people awaiting a decision on residency status will be charged the statutory tuition fees by default…”
A grey field indicates the party was absent during the vote. BIJ1 would undoubtedly have supported this motion. BBB and Omtzigt were both in favour of the motion, but both parties only hold a single seat each.
Well-being and social safety
Politics is concerned with social safety in many forms. We will be taking a look at a motion on inappropriate sexual behaviour, long COVID and flexible learning, given the arguments in favour of more flexibility.
Many parties – but not all – believe that more information should be provided on sexually transgressive behaviour within higher education. That information should be provided both during the introduction weeks and as part of the programmes themselves.
“… requests that the government… review how information for students and staff members on sexually transgressive behaviour can be embedded during the introduction weeks as well as within the curricula of all institutions of higher education…”
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be over, but a number of students are still struggling with the effects of long COVID. It is crucial to establish how these students are coping and whether they face financial difficulties more often.
“… requests that the government establish how many students are struggling with the effects of long COVID and how many students face financial difficulties due to these symptoms, as well as to review what solutions are available to assist these students…”
Pay per credit
Allowing students to study at their own pace and pay per credit, i.e. flexible learning, may be beneficial to elite athletes, young entrepreneurs, people with a chronic illness, informal carers, etc., but despite those benefits, the relevant bill has been delayed, to the frustration of a number of parties.
“… noting the fact that the law has not yet been introduced, which means that new students will not be able to engage in flexible learning in the next academic year; … requests that the government … ensure entry into force for the 2025-2026 academic year…”
The parties who voted against the motion believe it represents excessive adherence to the free-market principle and have raised the issues of coherence within the curriculum and relationships with other students. The parties believe that the fact that going to university has become so expensive should not be resolved with patchwork solutions like this one.
Selection and student participation
Each year, many prospective students are disappointed when they find out they have not been admitted to their preferred degree programme, whereas other are able to celebrate. The issue is whether the selection process is fair and who is in charge.
Programmes such as medicine and physiotherapy use an enrolment quota (limited number of places), which means that they can rely on a lottery system or selection process when admitting students. Proponents believe that using a lottery system is beneficial to equality.
Could both processes perhaps be combined? For example, by selecting the best candidates and rejecting unsuitable students right off the bat and then relying on a lottery system for the middle group. Opponents of a lottery system in particular have defended this option.
Following intense debates – including with a reluctant Minister of Education – the outcome is that the term ‘unsuitable students’ will refer to those students who, for example, do not attend the selection rounds. The House was called on to vote for or against combining the lottery system and selection procedure.
More power for students
Selection is a controversial issue, as it appears that talent is not always the principal consideration: certain groups of young people are less likely to be successful than other groups.
The students on the participation council are able to advise on the selection criteria of the degree programmes. However, a number of political parties want to give these students more power, in terms of the ability to stop any feeble plans for the selection process.
“With this amendment, the proposing parties wish to improve the position of student participation in choosing the selection methods of the institution by giving the central student council the right of assent in relation to the choice of selection methods.”
Training courses, board grants, accurate information… How much support does the student participation body receive? Some institutions offer better facilities than others. Should national guidelines be introduced, or would that be unnecessary?
“… requests that the government work with the student organisations and the umbrella organisations of the institutions to establish national guidelines for student participation in the field of training, support and communication…”
Finally: an issue that almost everyone agrees on. Incidentally, no such guidelines have as yet been introduced.
The basic grant is back, and almost all of the parties consider that to be a step in the right direction. However, there are still plenty of contentious issues. Should international students receive a supplementary grant? And how much purchasing power do students have?
For years, there was zero interest on student loans, given that Central Government was able to borrow money very cheaply. However, interest rates are now increasing – including for students. A number of parties have called for students not to be forced to pay interest on their student loans. However, this will cost the treasury billions.
“… requests that the government permanently fix interest rates on student loans at 0%…”
This motion was put to a vote before the government collapsed. A general election was still a long way away.
Interest for unlucky students
Could interest potentially be reduced for the generation of students who missed out on a basic grant? This would cost the government billions. The motion suggests simply reducing the number of tax benefits afforded to knowledge workers to make interest reduction feasible.
“… requests that the government freeze interest rates at the level of 2023 next year for all students who fell under the student loan system…”
However, the government has now stated that, unfortunately, it is not possible to freeze the interest rate for this group at 0.46 per cent. Surprisingly enough, Omtzigt voted against this motion. It was his proposal for expats to be given fewer tax benefits, thereby cushioning the interest on student debt, but a ‘freeze’ appears to go one step too far for him: it would be unaffordable.
Study grants for international students
Under certain conditions, European students are eligible to receive student finance in the Netherlands. This also means that they are entitled to a supplementary grant if their parents’ income remains below a certain threshold.
However, a section of the House argues that those parents may very well be rich enough in their own country, which means that the entitlement to a supplementary grant for these international students can be restricted.
“… requests that the government review… the extent to which it is possible to take into account whether parents belong to the middle income segment in the country where they earn an income when applying for the supplementary grant…”
With rent skyrocketing, tuition fees increasing and the cost of living likewise being costly, how much purchasing power do students here in the Netherlands have? Official calculations of purchasing power should not only include families, dual income households, single-person households, etc. but should also include students.
“… requests that the government explicitly include the development of the purchasing power of students in the official calculations of purchasing power and include developments of purchasing power in the Nibud Student Survey…”
DUO and discrimination
The news hit like a tonne of bricks: attempts to tackle fraudulent conduct involving the basic grant for students living independently almost only involve students with a migration background. There appears to be some discrimination in the checks conducted by the Education Executive Agency (DUO).
Fraud hunters DUO
One of the problems in investigations appears to be the dubious ‘risk profile’ used by fraud investigators.
“… requests that the government restrict detection of fraudulent conduct to random samples and end the use of risk profiles until more clarity is provided about DUO’s working methods…”
Burden of proof
DUO loses one in four court cases involving fraud relating to the grant for students living away from home. But does that mean that the other three cases do involve fraud? It may not, given that DUO does not require hard evidence: a chat with the neighbours is considered sufficient. Once they come under suspicion, students themselves are responsible for producing hard evidence that they are truly innocent – they are not always successful. This motion states that DUO should be the party that has to produce hard evidence.
“… requests that the government (…) review whether placing the burden of proof on DUO would improve the position of students living independently…”
In this case, the populist right receives the support of the VVD, SGP and CDA parties and achieves a majority.
No energy allowance
The government is against students receiving the energy allowance for low-income households. However, this position is controversial, if only because students regularly win court cases on the issue and are then granted the allowance anyway.
The government argues that, if students truly find themselves in trouble, they are able to turn to their municipality for special assistance. But when does the municipality step in? Are students required to borrow the maximum amount from DUO before they receive support?
“… requests that the government … prevent students from always having to borrow the maximum amount before being eligible for individual special assistance…”
Still no energy allowance
Students often live in smaller accommodation and have lower energy costs, which is why the government believes that they do not need an energy allowance of 800 euros (the 2022 amount). A section of the House has suggested a smaller amount, such as 250 euros.
“… requests that the government include students in the plans, for example, by making available an amount of €250 for students living independently (MBO, HBO, university)…”
This was blocked by the government coalition. A scheme of this nature was ultimately still introduced for this academic year. Students living away from home receive 400 euros (whereas other low-income households receive 1,300 euros).
Regarding the selection of motions and amendments: we have primarily, but not exclusively, reviewed votes that divided the four coalition parties: VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie. The parties often voted as a single bloc due to the compromises in the coalition agreement, which means their own positions are less evident.
For example, this applies to the return of the basic grant and compensation of students who missed out on the basic grant: the opposition parties wanted more, whereas the parties in government closed ranks. We therefore omitted such issues.