Student - June 25, 2009

STUDENTS IN GERMANY HAVE SOMETHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT

Something that hasn’t been seen in the Netherlands for years happened in Germany last week when about ten percent of the student population took to the streets to protest against education policy. Is the situation so much worse in Germany, or do Dutch students just prefer to sit at home and grumble?

In around eighty towns across the country, an estimated 270 thousand students joined the demonstrations for better education. One of their grievances is about course fees. The fees have been a bone of contention since their introduction a couple of years ago, and now they are even being raised. Although they are still relatively low, says German VHL student Kirsten. ‘You pay a lot more here.’ But in Germany you find yourself in a crowded, dilapidated lecture hall together with a couple of hundred others students. ‘That’s one of the reasons why I came to the Netherlands to study’, says Julian, a student of International Development at Wageningen University. He explains that students also object to the tuition fee because it goes against the right to education for all, and that the educational system is underfinanced or the finances are used inefficiently. ‘Altogether, the measures are heading towards a very elitist school system which contradicts an integrative school system where race and parents’ income don’t matter.’ The students also reject the introduction of the Bachelor-Master system and the growing influence of business on education.

That so many students protest against education policies comes as no surprise to Julian. ‘It has a long tradition from I guess even a century before the famous 1968.’ In France, too, students have been striking and picketing for four months in protest against the planned reform of universities and polytechnics.

At the Wageningen students’ union WSO, Kim van Groningen is astonished by the numbers of demonstrators in Germany, although she is not sure exactly what it’s all about. ‘In fact, there is always something to protest about in the Netherlands too, but perhaps there are a lot more changes in the pipeline in Germany.’ Yet Henno van Horssen, the VHL student who will chair the ISO student organization from next Saturday, is not envious of the turn-out and enthusiasm for activism in Germany. ‘Of course it’s nice if you can get a lot of people into action, but it’s even better if you haven’t got any major problems. Demonstrating is only a means to an end.’ Although Dutch higher education is also being threatened with cuts and the funding that higher education institutions get per student is borderline acceptable for Horssen, there are currently no plans for big demonstrations. The ISO seeks wherever possible to defend students’ interests through consultation and participation.

The question remains as to how many students would actually come out in protest if the students union called for it. At a demonstration by the ROUW committee (whose name stands for ‘save our university education’) against Minister Plasterk’s siphoning off of 100 million euros from the education budget to the research organization NWO, there were no more than 150 students.

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