The basic grant awarded to all Dutch higher education students is to be replaced with a social loan system from 2014. Minister Bussemaker confirmed this plan, laid out in the coalition agreement, in a letter to the Dutch parliament last week. The provision for free public transport for students is also to be cut down. Student organizations are up in arms about the plans, but the average student goes no further than a bit of grumbling. Have students already thrown in the towel on this one? By Rob Ramaker en Linda van der Nat
Member of the Student Council (VeSte)
'Before we go into action we first want to know what we are protesting against. There is still no clarity at all about the contents of the loan system, and exactly how social it is going to be. The national organizations are still in the throes of talks with the government and as long as there is dialogue going on, you don't start protesting. You don't want to have used up all your ammunition too soon, of course.
I have my doubts as to whether there will be a big demonstration on the Malieveld in The Hague. The demos against the slow students' fine attracted a lot of troublemakers. And that is not good for the image of students. But if it does come to a Malieveld demonstration VeSte would certainly try to get as many Wageningen students as possible to take part. I was very proud of myself for demonstrating last time.'
Second year, Biology
'I noticed too that there weren't any initiatives coming from student societies and unions. Personally I would be keen to join in if demonstrations were organized, because you cannot do much as a solitary student. But I don't organize anything myself either - which is not very good of me, really.
I do discuss with my fellow students how badly the plans are going to affect the students coming after us. I would like us to make clear that we don't agree - even if it's not going to affect us. A visible demonstration strikes me as the most effective way. A big demonstration with banners - that would give the right signal. Meanwhile, I hope the unions are busy lobbying behind the scenes now.'
Martijn van Gerven
First year, Nutrition and Health
'I think students have calmed down because the slow students' fine is not going ahead. Three thousand euros sounded shocking but actually the current plans will be even more costly. As soon as the social loan system is really brought in, students will probably be up in arms. I think old-fashioned demonstrations do help. You could see that during the campaign against the slow students' fine: the secretary of state came along and there was a lot of media attention.
If there are protests I will go along to the Malieveld but only because my parents live next door to it. Otherwise I probably wouldn't go beyond signing petitions. This measure won't affect me anyway for the next couple of years: I will keep my grant and for my Master's there is enough time for me to make arrangements to cope with this. If the plans affected me directly, I would certainly protest.'
Chair Dutch student's union LSVb
'Students have not yet thrown in the towel. After this was announced we got a lot of emails and phone calls. But it is still far too early to speculate about a big campaign. We first want to wait and see what comes out of the parliamentary debates and to what extent the minister is prepared to negotiate. It's anyone's guess at the moment. In the case of the slow students' fine, the mass protests and the indignation were primarily caused by the unfairness of the implementation. That will be the case now too. If the legal proposal is unfair or if there are mistakes in it, then both higher education and high school students will make themselves heard.'
Second year Biology
'I haven't gone into this subject much. The slow students' fine disappeared all of a sudden, so I just wanted to wait and see. I am against the abolition of the basic grant. Everyone should have the chance of higher education. What is more, people are going to be obliged to take out loans, whereas I would rather graduate without a debt. And it is already difficult not to borrow money. I do think we should demonstrate if they do go ahead with the plans. So many students will be affected. And the demonstrations against the slow students' fine worked. Although I must admit, I wasn't there. I can't remember exactly why not, but I think I just wasn't very bothered about it because it didn't affect me.'
Thijs van Reekum
Chair of the Intercity Students' Council (ISO)
'In my experience it is difficult to get students to go into action against a measure that doesn't affect them directly. The problem with the social loan system is that it only affects students starting on a new degree course in 2014. They are still at school now. It is difficult to persuade today's students that they should go and stand on the Malieveld, not for themselves but for their fellow students.
Loud protests are pointless. It looks as though the social loan system is going to be a political fact. We can shout 'no' as hard as we like, but the only effect will be that we will soon be negotiating with a very defensive minister. You don't achieve anything like that. It is better to wait and see how it will work out in practice. That is why we are very active behind the scenes to influence how it is implemented.'