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Dutch Ministry of Education to cut 149 million euros from higher education

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There is no such thing as free lunch, some say. The saying appears to ring true when it comes to the compensation students are getting in the pandemic, such as the 50-percent tuition waiver and the extension of their public transport pass. It turns out that the Dutch government is paying for these measures by cutting back the budget for vocational and higher education.

Read in Dutch

An unexpected cutback to education funding surfaced in the government’s Spring Memorandum, published last Friday. Billions of euros in support for higher education have been announced in recent months, but now it looks like this comes at the expense of the overall education budget. Part of the recently-announced 8.5 billion-euro support package doesn’t have government backing.

Among the support measures in place, students are being granted an extension of their study financing for several months. They can also keep using their public transit pass for longer. But the government doesn’t actually want to allocate any extra money for this. Secondary vocational education and higher education will have to pay the price, according to the Spring Memorandum (link in Dutch). The cutback will climb from 40 million euros in 2024 to a total of 149 million in 2027.

Even higher
But the real amount will actually be even higher, because the Ministry of Education has also allocated 91 million euros of its ‘year-end margin’ as ‘intertemporal coverage’ for these measures. This refers to money the Ministry can shift between different years. Basically, what this all means is that, for the foreseeable future, this money cannot be spent on other things.

Therefore, the support for students accounts for a total of 220 million euros in the Ministry’s budget, unless Parliament does something about it. The new coalition can make different arrangements.

"Fuming"
"I'm fuming", reacted Pieter Duisenberg, Chair of the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU). "It's a weird state of affairs. The minister should explain herself. You can't just claim that a problem suddenly came up over the weekend that you knew nothing about. The agreement simply didn't have enough information".

Duisenverg adds that Dutch universities already need an additional 1.1 billion euros, citing a recent report openly supported by the Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven. The VSNU chair then wonders how can she suddenly book a cutback.

National student organisations LSVb and ISO are equally puzzled. "It's incomprehensible that the cabinet is coming up with this now", declared LSVb chair Lyle Muns. "This document is a polite way to bring it up".

To him, there are only two possible explanations: "Either the Ministry of Education was not aware of this, which is an embarassment, or they knew about it and have chosen to keep this information from us".

“They promised to support students in these hard times. We were so happy about that, and now it turns out that they're actually taking money away from the educational institutions, as if students had to choose between their income and the quality of the education they get", complained ISO chair Dahran Çoban, for whom the extension of the public transport pass and the study financing no longer can be labeled as support.

Çoban concluded: "Do you see this happening in other sectors? Do you see the Minister of Employment giving financial support to companies and then cutting back the benefits for the unemployed?"

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