News - May 29, 2012

Labour Party: Make technical studies free of charge

The Labour Party wants to abolish tuition fees for technical degree programmes, said financial spokesperson Ronald Plasterk on Sunday in the television programme 'Buitenhof'. The party hopes to double the number of exact sciences students in this way.

No tuition fees for technical studies: a popularity stunt or a good idea to tackle labour shortage?
Plasterk is not the first in the current election campaign to advocate free technical studies.  In the race for the CDA party leadership, Henk Bleker, too, had already come up with a plan to lower tuition fees considerably for technical degree courses.
Why did Plasterk not tackle this matter when he still had some say during his term as Minister of Education? This question was raised by Buitenhof-presenter Clairy Polak. The Labour Party's response: the 'feeling of urgency' has risen. 'People can study communication sciences if they want to. But it's not more communication scientists which society really needs, but more technical personnel.'
Plasterk also expressed hope that employers will do what is needed for these students. They could offer a scholarship to graduates who have worked for three years in the Dutch industry.
Two final year school examination candidates write in de Volkskrant newspaper today to criticize this idea. Both intend to do an exact science study but fear that students would choose a technical course for the wrong reasons.  Currently, a quarter of the students drop out, they write. This percentage would keep going up if tuition fees were abolished because students would then choose a study programme for the wrong reasons, only to find out later that they could not cope with the study load. The two gymnasium school students feel that it would be better for the government to spend money to improve mathematics education.
There were frequent calls in the past to reduce tuition fees in exact sciences studies. For example, this was done at the start of this century by the VNO-NCW employers' organization. Research conducted among secondary school students, however, showed again and again that this would not have any effect on their study choices. The researchers concluded that technical studies were not 'trendy' enough and failed to relate to issues which students considered important.
Technical degree programmes were not the only studies which had prompted the call to lower tuition fees. In 2002, the Dutch Lower House proposed to abolish or to drastically lower tuition fees in teaching education. That proposal, too, had fallen flat in the face of criticisms from educational institutions and student organizations: financial stimulations would tarnish the image of the programmes and student motivation would suffer.