Marte Vroom already supported her teachers during the national demonstration in The Hague in December 2018. Photo DUB

Teachers, will you also show solidarity with your students?

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March 2020 changed my life in one fell swoop, writes Marte Vroom. She is an active student, chosen in June as student participant of the year because of her involvement, in among other things the Faculty Council of Geosciences. She supports the teachers in their struggle against work pressure. But students' lives are also under increasing pressure. According to her, teachers do not seem to realise this sufficiently.

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During the opening of the academic year on 31 August, I was spraying 10,000 red squares with about sixty students of Utrecht University. Students had calculated that there were about 10,000 hours of overtime at the University every day. They decided to take to action, under the name #10000uur, to show their solidarity to teachers by spraying 10,000 red squares from the University Hall on the Domplein to the Administration Building at the Utrecht Science Park. I joined the organisation of this action. Within less than a week, more than 1000 euros were raised and everything was organised: signs with shapes, spray cans, permission from the municipality of Utrecht, setting up and maintaining social media accounts, putting out news items, and much more.

It is painful to see how the government seems to ignore the voices of higher education

The action was an act of solidarity, but I doubt whether it will produce anything. Although a meeting with the Executive Board is planned, we received no response from the national media or from Minister Van Engelshoven. It is painful to see how the government seems to ignore the voices from higher education: despite the book by Eelco Runia, the earlier actions of WOinActie, the many news and opinion articles by Ingrid Robeyns and Remco Breuker, among others, about the demolition of higher education - Minister Van Engelshoven does not seem to be interested in the concerns of students and teachers. For me, 'getting something done' was not the primary reason for committing myself to this action. Out of dissatisfaction and out of the need to be able to do something and to be able to mean something, I went to work that day with spray cans. But I notice that the belligerence in me is starting to extinguish more and more.

 

Marte in action during the spraying of squares at the opening of the academic year 

Worrying trend
For years there has been a worrying trend: although the number of students is increasing, the government is cutting back on higher education time and time again. Logically, this leads to a decline in the quality of education: there are fewer and fewer teachers per student, students sit in ever larger seminars, and there is less guidance and feedback possible. I have been studying since 2014 and have seen education deteriorate with my own eyes. The consequences for teachers are not mild: teachers are more stressed and a majority of them say they experience a high to very high work pressure.

It is not just the teachers who are the victims of the government's mismanagement. With effect from academic year 2015/2016, the basic grant has been abolished and the loan system has been introduced. I was very lucky: for a long time, I was entitled to study grants and I also received a supplementary grant. But for many students around me, the situation is different: I see many friends going under because of the stress. Because of the fear surrounding student loans, they work many hours in addition to their studies, so that they can keep their study debt to a minimum.

I see many friends going under because of the stress. Because of the fear surrounding student loans, they work many hours in addition to their studies, so that they can keep their study debt to a minimum

I regularly hear from students that they suffer from overstraining and stress complaints. The fear of students loans has not turned out to be unjustified: with a study debt it is much more difficult to get a mortgage, especially in the impossible housing market situation we are now in. After studying, we have to apply for virtually unaffordable private housing, because for social housing you have to wait for more than ten years in a city like Utrecht.

Pulled out all the stops
And then came the corona crisis. As if the teachers weren't busy enough, the corona crisis caused even more work pressure for the teachers. From one day to the next, our teachers had to teach online. No, education was far from perfect, but most teachers pulled out all the stops to make do. Suddenly, the whole education system had been digitised - and without a single coin of extra money.

Students are dealing with loneliness more than ever before

In March 2020, my life, like so many other students' lives, was changed in one fell swoop. Everything that made studying fun was gone. Suddenly, we were sitting in our small student rooms behind our computer screens day in and day out, we weren't allowed to go to our study and student associations anymore, we had to keep a distance of a metre and a half in the student houses themselves, we weren't allowed to travel by public transport for a long time (and most students don't have a car, which drastically reduced your mobility), all study trips and exchanges were cancelled, and it no longer became natural to see fellow students. Many students lost their jobs or were given less work, and for the graduating students the job opportunities suddenly became a lot smaller. The consequences of the corona crisis are incalculable: students are more than ever faced with loneliness, stress, and worries about the future.

Some of the teachers seem to think that we want them to hand in their wages so that we can cut tuition fees by half

A number of students are now arguing for a 50 percent cut of tuition fees. Several petitions are now circulating asking for part of the tuition fees to be refunded. After all, the quality of online education is simply not as good as that of physical education. Students have more difficulty understanding the material and learn less. In addition, students experience study delays, for example because their entire study planning is turned upside down or because they are unable to finish their thesis. Apparently, the call for cutting tuition fees has not been received well by some teachers. Some of the teachers seem to think that we want them to hand in their wages so that we can halve the tuition fees, or that enabling them to halve the tuition fees should be at the expense of the money that is now available for higher education. No, dear teachers, that is, of course, the last thing we want.

Neglected child
The cabinet has allocated no less than 180 million euros for the closure of mink farms as a result of the many coronavirus infections. This means that every owner of a mink farm will receive as much as 1.5 million euros. With all due respect, the owners of these farms are often very wealthy - the largest mink breeder in the Netherlands is a multimillionaire and has been in the Quote-500 for years. And how about €44 million in support for Booking.com, while in 2018 the company was still criticised for keeping 715 million in profit tax in its own pocket? I can imagine where we can get the money from.

Students and teachers suffer the consequences of years of cutbacks in higher education

Let us join forces and act together against the Cabinet and its policies. Time and again, it turns out that higher education is the neglected child of the Netherlands. Students and teachers are suffering the consequences of years of cutbacks in higher education. Even during the corona crisis, it became clear that higher education is not a priority for the government. Teachers, we are in solidarity with you. Are you in solidarity with us in return? Speak out and support us in the fight against the student loan system and also advocate reducing tuition fees. Let us support each other in the fight to give higher education the appreciation it deserves from the Cabinet. Together we stand strong and remain belligerent.

 

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