The return of the slow-progress penalty is one of the major surprises in the outline agreement. An earlier version of the penalty, introduced years ago, was repealed after much protest, but that hasn’t deterred the coalition of PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB: Bachelor’s and Master’s students who fall behind by more than a year will have to pay an extra 3,000 euros in tuition fees from the 2026/2027 academic year.

The Dutch Student Union is already gearing up to protest against the penalty. President Elisa Weehuizen calls it ‘a baffling measure that makes it impossible to make mistakes’. “This will put enormous pressure on students.”

Burnout

There are also concerns in the House of Representatives about students’ mental wellbeing, which was made clear on Wednesday by D66 party leader Rob Jetten. Students are already struggling as a result of performance pressure, he said during the debate on the outline agreement presented by the new coalition. “After the bad luck generation, are we also going to have a burnout generation because the coalition is going to introduce something that I thought we had got rid of forever, namely the slow-progress penalty?”, he asked NSC’s Pieter Omtzigt.

The latter admitted that the penalty wasn’t his favourite part of the agreement. “But I do think it’s something we can explain to the rest of society, who pay for students’ spots at universities.”

Omtzigt referred to the education system in the UK, where he said a three-year study programme actually has to be completed in three years. “So not in three years and a few months”, he clarified.

Subsidy

Students pay over 2,000 euros in tuition fees a year, but this doesn’t cover the full cost of their studies. The government contributes up to 10,000 euros annually for each student, Omtzigt explained. Which means it’s quite reasonable to ask students to complete their studies ‘within the normal completion window plus one year’ under ‘normal circumstances’, the NSC leader said.

He did note that he was open to exemptions. For instance, he wants to give ‘careful consideration’ to whether the penalty should also apply to students who have a long-term illness, or to those who spend a year in student government. Jetten suggested that informal carers and top athletes should be added to the list as well.

Bad luck generation

The D66 leader also attacked Omtzigt on the compensation for students who missed out on the basic student grant – the so-called bad luck generation. This compensation is lower than promised, said Jetten, which Omtzigt denied: “We’ve consistently stated a figure of 1.4 billion, despite other parties suggesting different figures.” He added: “Some of the other parties’ election programmes didn’t even mention compensation at all.”

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