Nieuws - 30 augustus 2012

'What annoys me most is all the uncertainty.'

He has been slogging away all through the summer to try to avoid a fine. But Tom Rijntjes is not going to manage to finish his Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences on time.

Tom Rijnties: 'Many students had the shock of their lives'.
'I have finished all my courses', Rijntjes explains. 'I just need to finish off the literature study for my thesis.' He thinks that will take him about a month. But the bill for this delay has come in already. 'Tuition fees plus 3000 euros fine. It comes to 4500 euros, I think. I have been advised to pay in installments and then ask to have the excess I've paid reimbursed. But it is not clear how it is going to work. Do you have to pay it or don't you? Everyone gives you advice but no one knows exactly.' 
This is what bothers Rijntjes most about the whole slow student fine: the lack of clarity and the hassle. He feels the principle of having a fine as a bit of a 'stick' to prompt people to get through their degrees faster is 'OK'.  'Actually the fine is surprisingly effective', he comments. 'Many students had the shock of their lives and have been working hard all through the summer. So it works. But of course it is just not done to introduce such a measure when people are halfway through their studies. Most of my delay dates from my first year. I still had to learn how to study and I was very absorbed in club life at Ceres. If I had known this then I would have gone about my studies very differently.'
The election rhetoric around the slow student fine leaves Rijntjes cold. 'Just let them go on with their stunts.' He thinks the consequences of the fine will not be too drastic in the end. 'If it is no more than a month, my parents will pay the fine. I have also done committee work and I may get some compensation for that from the FOS to cover the subsequent delay in graduating. That way I may be able to pay back some of the fine. But I guess the form for that probably still needs to be created. Have you ever read Kafka's The Trial? I really don't fancy having to figure it all out.'
The fine that nobody wants anymore
'In order to improve the pass rate, slow students will be charged higher fees.' In the coalition agreement signed by the VVD and the CDA with the support of the PVV in September 2010, it still sounds fairly innocuous. But the truth soon came out: 3000 euros extra to pay for every additional year at university or college. It was the brainchild of the CDA, as an alternative to replacing student grants with a loans system. The measure is intended to make higher education more cost-effective by getting students through the system faster. You get fined for taking your time, in other words.
Students and universities (which will pay an equally stiff fine for each slow student) have opposed these measures from the start. Their main target is state secretary for education Halbe Zijlstra, for whom the fine has been named: the Halbe levy. Last year, by no coincidence on Zijlstra's birthday on 21 January, the opposition led to a mass demonstration. Fifteen thousand students gathered on the Malieveld in The Hague. They were supported by more than 1000 professors who processed in academic gowns around the pond at the houses of parliament, led by Wageningen's rector magnificus Martin Kropff.
The protest bore fruit. The cabinet was forced to water down the proposal to get it through both the lower house (in April 2011) and the upper house (in June 2011). At the request of the reformed church party SGP, the introduction of the fine was postponed by one year until 1 September this year. Once additional rules were added to cover exceptional cases (illness, pregnancy, handicaps etc.), the Christian Union party also got behind the measure. And in July this year a court ruled against the objections of the student unions to the fine. It seemed at that point to be a fait accompli.
That was until the CDA - the party that came up with the fine in the first place - suddenly turned against the measure in its election campaign. This means that a majority in the current lower house of parliament is now against the slow student fine. Yet it remains in place for the time being. Scrapping it before 1 September is not feasible. The parties cannot reach an agreement on where to find the money to cover the scrapping of the fine. So the slow student fine is in force for now. The only question is, for how long?