Where does the money in higher education go? Should quiet rooms be created? What about new construction? Students are on a range of councils and committees to help decide things for their programmes, faculties or education institutions.

But sometimes they hardly receive anything in the way of compensation. There are major differences. At some higher education institutions, students hardly get anything, whereas in other places they receive a grant to focus on the council work full-time.

In some cases, training and support leave something to be desired as well. Effective participation requires some knowledge and skills, but students are generally only there for a short amount of time: they could use some help.


A majority of the House of Representatives wants national guidelines for this and they’ve been backed by Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. But talks between student organisations and education institutions have stalled.

“Unfortunately, in spite of efforts by all parties involved, things have not worked out yet”, the Minister writes in a letter sent to the House of Representatives on the cusp of the Christmas holiday.

The main issue is reimbursement. At some institutions, for example, you have a tuition fee exemption when you’re on a participation body, so at least you’re not paying while you’re skipping classes to help shape policy. But far from all institutions offer this option.

Outgoing Minister Dijkgraaf doesn’t want to intervene, but is an advocate of tuition fee exemption. “This is why I am making a moral appeal to all institutions not offering tuition fee exemption yet to start doing so.”

Fat wallet

The Dutch National Students’ Association, which is rooted in participation, is disappointed by the talks not having resulted in much. “If you take participation seriously, you have to give student representatives a decent compensation for the important work they’re doing”, chair Demi Janssen thinks. Otherwise, according to her, you can only weigh in on education if you have a fat enough wallet.

Minister Dijkgraaf has freed up extra money for better participation: three million euros per year for the period of 2024 until and including 2027. “This is predicated on good agreements about reimbursements for all participation bodies”, he writes. The talks are to be completed in the first half of 2024.

“Training desirable”

Incidentally, no firm agreements have been made on the training of council members either. “Training programmes (…) are desirable”, was apparently the best that could be achieved in the negotiations between institutions and student organisations.

One thing that’s still up for discussion between participation body members and their own institutions is a list of possible facilities, such as ‘administrative support’ that councils should be able to get, for instance when transferring files to new members.