Science - September 9, 2004

Minister pledges for money

Opening academic year

The Dutch minister of development cooperation Agnes van Ardenne says she is shocked at the plans of the secretary of state for education Mark Rutte to stop financing students from outside the EU. During her speech to mark the opening of the academic year at Wageningen University this week she promised to search for solutions together with Rutte, and come up with a proposal to continue support to students from poor countries within a few months.

Van Ardenne was speaking in response to a petition presented by the Wageningen student organisation WSO and student fraction PSF. They had collected 1274 signatures from students here against Rutte’s plans. Rutte plans to make cuts that include stopping government money for postgraduate students from outside the EU. This would mean that tuition fees for this group would rise to 6500 euros. In their petition the students stressed the importance of the transfer of knowledge to people from developing countries, which would be under threat if the plans go ahead. Van Ardenne stated that she supports knowledge transfer and added: ‘I intend to contact the secretary of state to discuss how we can solve the matter. I am prepared to put money up for something I consider worthwhile, although there will be conditions attached.’

A spokesman for the minister added some footnotes later. ‘The minister was jumping the gun a little. She wants to examine the conditions laid down in the new proposal first. She does not intend to finance misuse; only students who are not able to finance their own study should be helped.’ The government’s plans to scrap subsidies to non-EU students will save it about twenty million euros. It is not yet clear where Van Ardenne is going to find the money to fill this gap.

Earlier on in the opening ceremony in the Aula Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen, chairman of Wageningen UR, said that the leading position Wageningen holds in internationalisation is under threat with the new proposals. ‘We have a relatively large number of international students, and such a big cut would not go unnoticed here. What’s worse is that it will considerably reduce the future chances for young people from less fortunate parts of the world.’ /JT

See also the editorial, Brain gain or brain drain?

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