Rens Bod, member of protest group WOinActie, gives the minister of education an alternative budget in the opening of the 2021-2022 academic year. Photo: HOP

Coalition agreement: new basic student grant, softer BSA, research fund

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Several months after the elections, a new cabinet has finally been formed in the Netherlands. Here is what the political parties in the coalition have agreed, as far as higher education is concerned. 

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Titled 'Looking after each other, looking ahead to the future', the new coalition agreement (text in Dutch) was unveiled on Wednesday, December 15. The elections were held in March, which means this has been the longest coalition forming period in the history of the Netherlands. 

Study financing
“We want everyone to be able to study, regardless of their parents' income,” write the parties VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie in the agreement. “We are paying attention to feasibility and enforceability.”

The basic student grant, abolished in 2015, will be making a comeback in September 2023, with a supplementary grant also remaining available. Dutch students will also get to keep the public transport student card.

The loan conditions also remain the same. Students can therefore take 35 years to pay off their student debt. Under the old student grant regime, valid until September 2015, they had fifteen years to pay it back, with higher monthly payments.

The old basic student grant was abolished in order to allocate money for investments in higher education. The investments foreseen then will be maintained. In addition, one billion euros have been set aside to compensate the students who have missed out on the basic grant.

Part of this allowance (250 million euros) is going to be cut from the National Education Programme in 2023, which is intended to eliminate cognitive and social-emotional disadvantages in education.

One billion euros is not a large amount for this compensation, compared to previous estimates (between 1.4 and 11 billion euros). Students without a basic grant will soon be able to choose between a discount on their student debt or a voucher for extra education. Exact amounts per student are not mentioned in the agreement.

Research
Over the next ten years, the government aims to invest 5 billion euros in scientific research, which means 500 million euros per year. The money will go into a special fund and will be used for “free and unfettered research and development”.

Furthermore, the cabinet wants to offer universities and universities of applied sciences more room "to tackle the workload, offer permanent contracts and maintain a balanced supply in shrinking regions".

To this end, the amount allocated to funding higher education institution is being adjusted: the cabinet intends to remove the "perverse incentive" to recruit as many students as possible, which is why the funding per student has been lowered. Instead, the cabinet will “review and increase” the fixed base. That is the amount that educational institutions will receive anyway, regardless of how many students they have.

There will also be a “better balance” between direct and indirect funding, in other words the funding that goes directly to the educational institutions and the money that educational institutions can obtain in competition from research funder NWO.

Internationalization
A law regarding the internationalization of higher education has been drafted by the Senate. It aims to put an end to the anglicisation of higher education in the Netherlands and give educational institutions the opportunity to manage the influx of international students better.

“If the existing and yet to be introduced instruments prove to be insufficient to manage shocks in the number of (international) students”, write the parties in the agreement, “we will verify whether new instruments are needed.”

Selection and bsa
Another hot topic: selection at the gate. “Programmes that select students at the gate must substantiate how the selection procedure fits with the content of the programme, how effective it is, and whether it guarantees equal opportunities,” the agreement states.

The binding study advice is becoming more lenient. “Students who do not meet the BSA requirements in their first year will have the opportunity to meet the standard in the second year."

But there are exceptions: in the event of “evidently insufficient study progress”, the institution retains the option of expelling students at the end of the first year. In that case, the student must receive guidance towards a “more appropriate” study programme. “With this modified BSA, we also contribute to increasing student well-being,” the parties believe.

Freedom and Equal Opportunities
“We encourage the free and secure exchange of ideas and safeguard the academic freedom of scientists,” the agreement said. Open science and open education are becoming the norm.

At least, as long as national security is not compromised. The new cabinet will also establish "frameworks" for scientific cooperation with countries not considered free or democratic, which has been the subject of much discussion recently.

But the cabinet is beware of ideas that threaten freedom even within the Dutch borders. "We will stop funding initiatives if there is evidence that an institution is engaged in practices that go against the rule of law" states the agreement, possibly referring to the Islamic University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam, which party VVD would like to take stricter action against.

Housing
The housing shortage, and how it affects students, is also addressed by the agreement. “In view of the acute housing shortage for students, asylym seekers, migrant workers and the homeless, the aim is to build 15,000 temporary homes annually, with 15,000 additional units from transforming offices to homes.”

The government wants to remove obstacles to the construction and purchase of homes. “For starters, when applying for a mortgage, the current state of the student debt is decisive.” That is to say: not the original student loan, but the outstanding amount. The question is what the effect will be, since the monthly repayment to DUO does not change.

There will also be a "reporting obligation, registration obligation or rental permit, especially for the larger landlords". According to the parties, this will enable municipalities to tackle discrimination and abusive landlords in a more targeted manner.

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