News - February 24, 2011

No fees for student execs: how would that work?

No tuition fees and a year off: as long as it does not cost the government anything, the CDA and the VVD want to offer student executives this deal. But what exactly is the plan and what are the practical drawbacks?

What it comes down to is this: fulltime student executives should be allowed to take a year off while holding on to their executive allowance. This way they do not pay tuition fees and their year off is not counted as an extension to their studies. Student organizations ISO and LKvV are arguing for this system and seem to have found sympathetic ears in the Dutch parliament.

Why though?
Student executives are not actually students during their time in office but are making a real contribution to the democratic process and to student life. On this point, the CDA, VVD and students wholeheartedly agree.

What would the student executives get out of it?
Almost 1,700 euros a year. What is more, they would have one more year in which to get their degree before they would have to start paying the 'extender's fine' of 3,000 euros extra in tuition fees.  But that is not to say that a year in fulltime management does not cost the student anything. The allowances they get from the various universities vary considerably. Many of them have to take out student loans anyway. And that is another practical point: they will still need to qualify for those loans even if they have dropped out for a while. Currently, all national student executives at LKvV or ISA, for example, take time off. Because they get an allowance from the government and not from their institution.

What would it cost the government?
The VVD and the CDA support the proposal of the student organizations as long as it won't cost the government a cent. Guy Hendriks of the Intercity Student Council sees no problem: 'The government does not have to fund these students as they are not taking courses. In our plan, all that is left is the cost of public transport student cards for the 700-odd student executives. That is such a small amount. I cannot imagine the whole thing will founder on that point.'

What would change for the institutions?
In the present system, local student executives - including those who do not take course for a whole year - continue to be registered with their institution and are budgeted for. So that makes a difference of a couple of thousand euros per student that is saved. But the sums are not that easy, because the students also contribute to education, and participation is given increasing weight in discussions on educational quality. The applied sciences council and the universities association VSNU have not made up their minds and do not want to comment yet.

What about campus contracts and student insurances?
'As an executive you keep your student status and you remain attached to the institution. Students enter into an agreement to continue their courses after their year as executives. It must be possible to organize that', says Hendriks.

Is this an entirely new plan?
No. The ISO and the LKvV were pressing two years ago for tuition fee exemption for fulltime local executives. But that plan never made it into the lower house of parliament, although the then minister Plasterk did decide to raise the number of grants for national student executives. He asked the education inspectorate what problems local student executives faced. According to the inspectorate, money was hardly an issue for students when deciding whether or not to do a year on a board.

When will things become clearer?
During the hearing on VVD secretary of state Halbe Zijlstra's proposed new law on student extensions. It will be discussed in the lower house next month.