Education budget: minister recognises social drama in universities of applied sciences

The universities of applied sciences seem to be undergoing “a social drama” at the moment as so many young men of ethnic minorities are dropping out, said Minister Bussemaker yesterday evening in The House of Representatives. She is trying to turn this around, but is unable to convince everyone of her approach.

Equal opportunities in education was a major theme in the debate about the Cabinet’s education budget. The move from senior secondary vocational education to universities of applied sciences was of concern to many members of parliament: how can one ensure that talented senior secondary vocational education students can move into higher education?

In all sorts of ways, the Minister said. Better coaching, better information, special choices in senior secondary vocational education … everything is being tried to improve the transition from senior secondary vocational education to universities of applied sciences.

And that’s not where it ends, she emphasised. “It is the task of education to admit students and to keep them there and not let them drop out. Admitting students is one thing, but ensuring that they reach the finish line is completely different and more complicated.”

And what about the growing divide in society? This worries Minister Bussemaker, though she believes that the divide is not caused by the education system. Unequal opportunities are “a stubborn societal issue”.

These may be nice words, but just look at the Education in Primary Schools degree programme, once the largest university of applied sciences’ degree programme. Since strict admission requirements have been enforced, the intake has halved and the degree programme has become the course of white suburban girls in particular, said Rik Grashoff of GroenLinks. The admission requirements have shot themselves in the foot and have helped further the division.

But we have to maintain high standards, was Bussemaker’s response. The teaching profession is a “mega responsible job”. She finds it highly undesirable that at present so few ethnic minorities and senior secondary vocational education students enter the Education in Primary Schools degree programme, but she refuses to adapt the admission requirements.

Then invest in an intermediate course to bridge senior secondary vocational education and the PABO, Michel Rog (CDA) suggested. Tunahan Kuzu (Denk) agreed. He wants to see an intermediate year between senior secondary vocational education and Education in Primary Schools degree programme to boost the number of students from ethnic minorities.

Redundant, declared Minister Bussemaker, as the Cabinet is already doing a lot. There are several ways to support senior secondary vocational education students to enter the Education in Primary Schools degree programmes. “We want to create a situation in which all children of all classes in the Netherlands can identify with the teachers, male and female, and with role models in the classroom.”

Of course the for and against camps of the new student loan system clash about the costs of studying. Fewer students are going to universities of applied sciences, sneered the CDA. But this is already changing, was the answer. Furthermore, there were already fewer senior secondary vocational education students going to universities of applied sciences – this was already a trend and has nothing to do with the new student loan system.

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