Dutch higher education has been hit by one new measure after another, with a new fine being imposed on slow students and the basic grant being scrapped for Master's students. Jobs are getting harder and harder to come by too. So what does all this mean for high school students now deciding what kind of degree programme to take? Do they choose with their heads or still with their hearts? We asked them at the open day on the Wageningen campus on Saturday 14 April.
Future biotechnologist Jerome Comes actually agrees with the slow student fine. ‘A degree course is not there for you to lean back and take it easy. And that kind of push factor helps me. What if I wanted to spend a year serving on a board? Oh well, I'll see about that when the time comes.' Erik Lokhorst (4th year VWO, a 6-year high school course) has come up with another solution. ‘I live in Veenendaal so I can commute every day. Not moving away from home makes a big difference.'
But Anneles van Ingen is concerned. ‘I would very much like to do something on the social sciences side, such as International Development Studies, but I think environment is important too. What if I make the wrong choice? Then I can't transfer anymore.' Her mother sympathizes with her. ‘She is clever but she is also very sociable and idealistic. We have already been to Twente, but the person giving the talk came across as autistic. I don't think that course would suit her. It is difficult.'
Seventeen-year-old Anke Martens does not worry about such things yet. ‘I am still getting orientated. Landscape architecture seems interesting to me, because you can apply geography with it. I don't really take job prospects into account.' Her mother looks shocked. ‘Well, for us poor job prospects could well be a reason to consider a different choice of course. It is important to think about what you can do with it, after all. For parents it is quite normal to pay attention to that.'
At Van Hall Larenstein, Loes Gorseling (fifth year HAVO, a five-year high school course) is looking around. ‘I am here for Applied Animal Sciences but physiotherapy sounds very interesting too. Can I do that here as well? I don't know whether there is much work in Animal Sciences.' In any case, her mother doesn't want to interfere with her daughter's choice of degree subject. ‘My parents did that with me and I don't want to do the same to my daughter. I don't worry about her job prospects. If you really want to do something, it will work out alright. You see more and more freelancers. If you really love your subject you think of some way of making money with it.'
A trio of potential agrotechnologists from the North-east polder are not letting it get to them either. ‘Slow student fine or not, I am certainly going to study', says Wouter de Laat. ‘I am more worried about what comes after that. The sugar beet quota is coming to an end, which could be a threat for me. At the moment I am only aware of the crisis at the petrol pump, not when choosing my degree subject.'
The Van de Meulen family are not in favour of a pragmatic choice of degree subject either. That is not what an academic training is all about, in their view. ‘You need space precisely for ‘useless' research', says mother Marjan with conviction. ‘At university the main thing you learn is to think in a new way', adds father Arnout. ‘The degree course itself is a start, not the final destination; choices you make later are far more important.' Daughter Paulien nods; the main aim for her is to do things she likes, and for now that seems to be Nutrition and Health or perhaps Biology, after all. The high costs don't worry her. She smiles. ‘I am expecting some support from my parents.'