News - April 1, 2010

Cuts to student grants and transport pass

Replace the maintenance grant with a loan, offer a more limited public transport pass, raise tuition fees and rationalize study programmes. Those are the main proposals for making cuts in higher education.

To help the government balance its books after the crisis, civil servants have put their heads together in twenty working groups to look for ways to make savings. They presented their findings today. Cuts in higher education could save the government one billion euros a year.

Scrap the basic grant
By getting rid of the basic grant, the government would make students more responsible for their own spending. They could choose to work more, fall back on their parents, or take out a government loan. That loan would have to be paid back over a maximum of 25 years, depending on their income. The easily abused distinction between students living at home and those living independently could be scrapped, simplifying the administration of student funding.
Experiences in other countries show that getting rid of maintenance grants does not lead to a drop in the numbers of young people going into higher education, says the commission. It would, however, generate savings of 350 million euros per year by 2015. By 2020, when more students are starting to pay back their loans, it would save 800 million euros.

Limited public transport pass
At present, students too often use their free public transport pass (the OV-jaarkaart) for journeys that have nothing to do with their studies, concluded the working group. They therefore think there would be no harm in cutting back here too, offering reductions on journeys instead of free travel. That would make a difference of 65 million euros in government spending in five years, and 200 million by 2020.

Raising tuition fees
A further option is to raise tuition fees by fifty percent, from 1620 to 2430 euros. This would save the government 450 million euros per year. Universities could set the tuition fees for Master's courses themselves, up to a maximum of five times the established fees. And that would save 200 million. The working group did make the proviso that tuition fees should not go up too much, as the Netherlands should not price itself out of the market and cause students to shop elsewhere for cheaper higher education.

Cuts in bureaucracy
The working group also suggested that 195 million euros could be saved every year if higher education institutions were to rationalize their operations. Staff have to spend too much time on tasks that are not directly related to education and research. A number of small study programmes should also be subjected to critical scrutiny, and the overheads of many institutions could be brought down.
In one of the three scenarios thought up by the working group, there is an option to reinvest some of the savings made in education. For example, in more supervision during Bachelor's programmes, more investments in the quality of Master's programmes, and helping students to choose the right programme by providing a chance to discuss their choice of programme.