News - October 31, 2012

Bye-bye basic grant

The centre left PvdA and the centre-right VVD, the parties forming the new coalition in the Netherlands, are bent on replacing the basic grant with a 'social' loan. This will mean higher student debts and the money saved will not go into higher education.

It is a crying shame to scrap the basic grant.

Kai Heijneman
Chair of the national student union LSVb
'I think it's a bad business that the basic grant is being scrapped. It means that many school students will either opt out or will not go for their first choice of degree programme, because it does not guarantee them a job. Also, students will start working more in order to keep their debts down. So instead of a job on the side while they study, they will be studying on the side while they work. What is more, graduates will soon have debts averaging 30,000 euros, as opposed to the average of 15,000 now. Getting rid of the basic grant is a fundamental change of system. The govern­ment is dropping an important task: funding good education for everyone. In a time of crisis, there is one thing you should not economize on: the future. Look at Germany, Sweden and Denmark, where they invest extra in education during the crisis. They know you get that investment back twice over.'
Marianne van Geest
First-year Nutrition and Health
'I understand that government wants to save money by scrapping the basic grant or bringing in a fine on slow students, but I don't think either of these is a good idea. Studying without a grant will cost an awful lot more and anyway, I think everyone should have the ¬≠chance to study.  Actually the slow student fine was a better idea than scrapping grants. At least you could avoid that fine
if you did your best. I expected to be able to do that. Since I am not affected by the measure myself, I don't think I will demonstrate. But I would think three times if I still had to start my studies now. I might make a different de
Tiny van Boekel
Director of Education
'A crying shame is too strong, I think. I see the point of the argument that students should invest in themselves now that we have to make cutbacks. But to me a lot depends on the way it is done. A loan system must not exclude students who do not have rich parents. Nor can you assume that all students are going to be high earners later. There are degree programmes that are of great value to society without leading to a highly paid job. If the university offers a programme after which the job prospects are poor, you should communicate honestly about that.
Studying at Wageningen takes five years in all, for both a Bachelor's and a Master's. A loan system could lead to students choosing shorter routes to a Master's, although I think that won't happen too much. I suspect that students will still go for what interests them and what they are good at - at least, if the science programmes elsewhere continue to take five years too.
The social studies MSc programmes are an exception - Wageningen is the only place where they take two years. We combine them with the life sciences here, and you really do need two years for that. To me it would be a pity if we had to stop that.'
Wieger Wamelink
Alterra, student on a grant from 1984 to 1988 and from 1991 to 1993
'I am against scrapping it. Mainly because I am afraid that students from less well-off families will get into difficulties. Of course you can borrow money but you have to pay it back. Then you run up a considerable debt, which will hang around your neck like a millstone. I think that will put a lot of young people off studying. Just imagine: you go to university and the first thing you hear is: I four years' time you will leave here with a debt of 20,000 euros. I don't believe it will make students make more thought-through decisions. On principle, everyone should be able to study what they want. If you do something you like, you achieve higher.
The choice of degree subject should not depend on the price tag attached to it. There are other ways of getting students to make better decisions, through binding advice for example, or by selecting them at the admissions stage.'
Lana de Vries
First-year biology
'Maybe the slow student fine would have been better for students. It's up to you then. Only the people who take longer without any special reasons for doing so pay extra. And it really is possible to graduate in four years. The social loan system is a bad idea because students will finish university with a big debt. I don't think much of the argument that this will make them make a better choice of degree subject. What it will do is make it harder for people who don't have the money to study. It throws up an extra barrier, whereas you want as many people as possible to go into higher education. Of course it would be nice if the money generated is ploughed back into education but I have my doubts as to whether they will really do that.'
Wiebe Aans
On the staff at Studium Generale
'In 1986, when the basic grant was brought in, I was on the board of the Wageningen student organization WSO. Then we were against the introduction of the basic grant and we argued for a basic income. For students as well, since studying is work too. I still support that proposal. According to the new plan, students first have to borrow in order to pay back later, when they have a job. I consider that better than the basic grant because in fact the less well-off subsidize the degrees of the rich through the tax system. I am concerned about access to higher education. That has already got a lot worse with the stripping down of the basic grant over recent years. Children from disadvantaged families do not dare to borrow as much as those from well-heeled families, some economists claim. The statistics also show that social mobility has declined in the Netherlands. And it won't be improved by this, I am afraid.'