Around two thousand students protested against higher education cuts on Friday 21 May at the Museumplein square in Amsterdam. Even political parties that want to abolish the basic student grant braved the podium.
There were mixed reactions to the speech by the outgoing secretary of state Van Bijsterveldt (CDA), who wants to keep student grants - including a supplementary grant and the public transport pass - but only for students who don't exceed the nominal number of years for their course by more than one year. Anyone who takes longer will have to pay college fees, which currently average 5,500 euros. Tofik Dibi of Groenlinks (the Green Left Party) was also greeted by both applause and boos when he advocated a tax on graduates.
The Young Democrats (D66), who had occupied the Utrecht offices of the national students' union (LSVb) on the Friday morning, presented an alternative viewpoint. Chairperson Thomas Bakker: 'We are concerned about the quality of higher education as well, only we are prepared to sacrifice the student grant to get it. A precondition for this is that a social loan system should be set up.' He is not afraid of access to higher education coming under threat. 'There's virtually nowhere else in the world where access is as good as in the Netherlands. We are worried about the quality of higher education, though.'
There was also a delegation from Wageningen at the protest. A bus paid for by the Executive Board took twenty-five students to the Museumplein. Marlies Bos of the Wageningen Student Union (WSO) reckons that another twenty-five students came by public transport. 'It was a successful action. Only it was a pity that the media gave the impression it was just about the student grant. It was also about the quality and accessibility of higher education', says Bos.