If coalition parties PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB have their way, students who take more than one year extra to complete their studies will soon have to pay an additional 3,000 euros in tuition fees. In total, the new government wants to cut nearly one billion euros a year from the higher education and research budget.

The Dutch Student Union organised the protest and its president Elisa Weehuizen was the first to address the crowd on Utrecht’s Jaarbeursplein. She dismissed the fine as unfair and unreasonable, listing all kinds of reasons why a student might not graduate on time. “Are you serving on a student committee? Working to help your fellow students? Dealing with a chronic illness? Taking a particularly challenging degree programme? If so, this government will happily hand you a fine of 3000 euros.”

In her view, the new coalition parties have a dismal recent record when it comes to supporting students and their welfare. “Who backed scrapping billions in compensation for students who missed out on the student grant? The NSC. Who ignored calls from young people to have a say in the new coalition agreement? All the coalition parties. Who is planning cuts that will destroy education? All the coalition parties.” She ended her speech with a slogan: “Stop blackmailing us! No fine for studying!”

Many students had made their own protest signs like this one with: “I can’t pay that.” Image credit: DUB

‘Block these cuts’

The demonstration won the backing of WOinActie, a platform for university students and teaching staff. Co-founder Rens Bod, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, warned that the fine on delayed graduation would further undermine the accessibility of higher education and reduce the knowledge and expertise available to tackle society’s problems.

“We are here to protest not only at the cuts and the fine on delayed graduation, but also at the systematic undermining of science and knowledge”, Bod said. “We therefore need to block these cuts and not go along with them in any way.” He called on higher education executives to take a principled stand and refuse to cooperate with the cutbacks. “Do not implement these plans!”

DUB foto 3 demo Utrecht 22-6-2024_Toespraak Rens Bod
Rens Bod, co-founder of WOinAction and professor at the University of Amsterdam, gave a speech during the protest in Utrecht. Image credit: DUB

March through Utrecht

When the speeches were over, the demonstrators marched through the streets of Utrecht. Jente, a nineteen-year-old nursing student, was among them. She is worried her graduation could be delayed by a suitable internship not being available on time. “That would mean studying longer through no fault of my own. To be fined for that would be totally unfair.”

Students and academics from across the Netherlands joined the protest, along with executives from universities in Utrecht, Rotterdam, Groningen, Tilburg, Leiden and elsewhere. Education unions also took part, as did representatives from opposition parties in the House of Representatives and their youth wings.

Petition

GroenLinks-PvdA politician Luc Stultiens is the initiator of a petition against the fine for delayed graduation, which has attracted over 62,000 signatures to date. He is convinced that the fine will put students under further pressure. “That’s why we want to get this plan off the table by demonstrating and keeping it on the agenda in the House of Representatives. If the government runs out of money, we will be standing by to put forward alternatives.”

Caspar van den Berg, president of Universities of the Netherlands, and Maurice Limmen, chair of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, were also among the demonstrators. But when asked, Limmen said he first wants to wait and see exactly how the new education minister Eppo Bruins intends to implement the coalition’s plans. “Only when we know more about the fine, its impact and the cuts can we open talks with the minister on these issues. Until then, I support the dissenting voices but refrain from making statements on the action the Association might take.”

Absurd

Twenty-year-old physics student Rens is angry about the plans. He thinks it’s ‘absurd’ that he could face a fine for taking a challenging degree course. “I already have to work part-time in order to study at all, so in my view a fine is simply out of the question.”

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