21 May 2019 • HOP, Melanie Zierse
Disagreement overshadows debate on pre-investments
A debate intended to discuss the pre-investments in higher education turned into a vicious discussion about the loan system and increased interest rates. Especially GroenLinks Member of Parliament Zihni Özdil, bore the brunt of the criticisms.
VVD and especially D66 had nothing good to say about “the switch” that GroenLinks made at the beginning of this week. The party withdrew its support for the loan system after Member of Parliament Özdil stated in newspaper Trouw that he was distancing himself from “the rotten system”. This was quite a surprising statement, considering that GroenLinks party leader, Jesse Klaver, had been one of the initiators of the social loan system in 2014.
“GroenLinks fuels uncertainty by going back on its promises,” said D66 Member of Parliament Paul van Meenen. He also felt it was irresponsible for the party to not present an alternative. “This is the reason why young people lose faith in politics.”
Minister Van Engelshoven supported her fellow party member. “Everybody is free to out of the blue reconsider an agreement, which shows what kind of partner you are.” She was “very angry” about a number of statements made by Özdil, which according to her “are far from reality.”
Özdil had stated that the progression of senior general secondary education and lower secondary education graduates into universities of applied sciences had stalled and that repayments of a student loan could go up to “hundreds of euros a month” when someone earns slightly more than minimum wage. “However, there are no numbers that prove there has been a significant decrease in progression as a result of the loan system,” was the minister’s response to his first statement.
Van Engelshoven also discredited Özdil’s second statement: “If you earn an average income, which is far above minimum wage, your monthly loan payments would never be more than 47 euros. Even if you earn twice the average wage, it would take a very large loan to pay more than a hundred euros a month, let alone hundreds of euros.” The Minister was visibly annoyed. “Don’t use incorrect facts to scare people away from student loans. That’s fact free politics at the expense of students.”
There were other disagreements among the coalition parties CDA and ChristenUnie on one side and D66 on the other side, this time about the increased interest rate on student loans. If this plan is approved by the Dutch Senate, students who have taken out an average loan (21,000 euros), earn an above average income and pay off their loan in 35 years will end up paying 5,000 euros more. D66 emphasised again that it’s not in favour of this increased interest rate, which was introduced by CDA and the ChristenUnie.
CDA Member of Parliament Van der Molen responded furiously, “This is the worst example of collegiality I have ever seen in the coalition. I, too, have signed agreements that I have serious reservations about, but I try to put myself in the position of D66.” He referred to the loan system, which the CDA party opposed. “You don’t point the finger at others in these types of debates.”
In between the various disagreements, the debate also addressed the pre-investments in higher education. While awaiting the many millions from the basic grants, research universities and universities of applied sciences promised that between 2015 and 2017 they would invest an additional 600 million euros of their own resources in their education. This would enable students without a basic grant to immediately benefit from these funds.
The institutions claimed that they had invested 860 million but the National Audit Office was only able to identify 280 million euros of real additional investments. An almost equal amount (250 million) was not a pre-investment and 330 million could not be identified at all.
Van Engelshoven confirmed once again that this has caused a lot of aggravation. She wants to put an end to the debate on pre-investment. The most important lesson she has learned: the agreements with the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the umbrella organisation VSNU should have been much more precise. “It didn’t go as planned. We should have determined per institution how they would spend the money and where it would come from.”
According to the Minister, this is all better arranged in the quality agreements. There is a system in place to which she can hold the institutions accountable. “These agreements are binding.”
Several Members of Parliament want to know if the payment of the study vouchers (worth 2,000 euros) couldn’t be advanced. The first four cohorts of ‘unlucky students’ who no longer have a basic grant will only be able to use these vouchers five to ten years after they graduate. That means they cannot use these to pay their tuition fees for a master’s degree programme, for example.
Van Engelshoven reiterated that moving up this date is not technically viable for DUO. “But if Parliament insists, we will have to. Right now, I am very reluctant to make these kinds of changes in the system.” The SP wanted to know from the minister how much it would cost to move up the payment of the study vouchers. She is going to research this.
Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science