Student - November 18, 2009

Student grants under fire

Last week in the Dutch parliament, the green party GroenLinks proposed scrapping student grants in favour of a student wage. Back in September, the conservative VVD party proposed student loans, an idea Ministry of education officials are studying. They all agree that the current student financing system is too expensive.

The student grant system is coming under fire from all quarters. From the right we hear that students should contribute to their study costs themselves. On the left, the complaint is that society has to carry the costs. As PvdA (Labour party) leader Wouter Bos put it, 'The corner-shop butcher helps pay for the education of a barrister; that's getting solidarity back to front.'
Four Billion
Meanwhile the recession has increased the pressure to cut costs. Student numbers are growing and with them the costs of student funding. Next year the government will spend about four billion euros on higher education. Ministry of education officials are investigating the possibilities for a loans system. They will publish their findings in March 2010. GroenLinks and the VVD are jumping the gun.
  The VVD wants a social loans system. Scrapping the minimum grant will save one million euros, which the party would like to see spent on improving the quality of higher education. Students could apply for a low-interest grant to cover their living costs. That means building up a debt over the course of your studies. But this investment pays off, argues the VVD. For every year that you study, your income goes up by an average of seven percent.
Fear of loans 
The Socialist party SP and GroenLinks, like the student organizations, are afraid that loans will put a lot of people off studying. When you are eighteen you haven't got a clue how much you will have to pay back later. The Green Left wants all students to get a basic wage and to pay it back later through a one percent study tax. This would require massive government investment for the first few years until the tax money starts to come in. And a student who completes his studies in four years and gets a fulltime job will pay more 'study tax' than someone who parties for six years and then works part-time.
In the Dutch parliament, D66, the CDA and some PvdA MPs are backing a loans system too. The VVD plan does not have a majority in the lower house at the moment, but all the parties agree that something's got to give in the present system. The minimum grant has had its day. And the fear of loans? Research shows that in fact students take out loans quite readily, even for things like flatscreens and travel. So why not for their studies?
The proposals in a nutshell
VVD: social loans system
- Loans instead of grants. Graduates would pay them back at low interest, according to their income.
- Tuition fees would not exceed 1620 euros.
GroenLinks: student wage + tax
- Every student would get an income of about 700 euros a month.
- Tuition fees would be scrapped.
- Graduates earning average or above average salaries would pay one percent more tax.

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