Minister calls off ‘cash transfer’ of loan system millions
Minister Van Engelshoven has called off her plan for the accelerated allocation of revenue from the new loan system to fund better education. Her condition was that institutions and student organisations would create a joint proposal, which didn’t happen.
In early September the universities developed an idea that garnered the support of the universities of applied sciences: why wait numerous years for funds from the new loan system if we can spend the money now? That would allow current students without a basic grant to benefit from better education. It would also enable the hiring of more lecturers, which would reduce the work load. However, it means that the government has to be prepared to spend funds now that it will only collect in a few years. This is known as a cash transfer.
Minister Van Engelshoven was quite interested in this suggestion, she wrote three weeks later. “If there are solid proposals for the accelerated use of these resources, I will commit to facilitating these proposals with a cash transfer from my budget, while respecting the existing budgetary frameworks.”
Governing party CDA supported the cash transfer in a motion, but under one condition: organisations that between 2015 and 2017 failed to invest in better education, would still be required to make these investments. The CDA also felt that it was reasonable to allow ‘unlucky’ students (the 2015-2017 cohorts who had their basic grant cut but still have to pay higher tuition fees) to spend their education vouchers sooner. When the basic grants were replaced by a loan system, an agreement was made that the first cohorts without a basic grant would receive vouchers that they could use five to ten years after graduation for a new study. If they would be allowed to use these vouchers now, for example to complete a master’s degree programme, the students would receive some form of compensation, according to the CDA.
But in her letter to parliament, Minister Van Engelshoven called off both proposals for now. “The VSNU, The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, ISO and LSVb did not develop a joint proposal for the accelerated use of these funds (…) I’m also not going to play around with the education voucher resources (which are part of student loan funds). It’s also important to underline that DUO is technically unable to anticipate the early implementation of the vouchers.”
VSNU spokesperson Bart Pierik says it’s “a bit premature” for the minister to already drop the cash transfer proposal. “We are still negotiating with ISO and LSVb, but they aren’t too keen and prefer to focus on structural additional investments. We are certainly in favour of that, but we also believe that it’s important to already have access to some funds. That would benefit everyone.”
VSNU also sees possibilities for each institution. Pierik refers to Universiteit Maastricht where the Staff and Student Council agreed to use the funds from the loan system to invest in the professionalization of lecturers. “In this case we are talking about a cash transfer for a specific institution that is based on a ‘supported proposal’.”
ISO chair Tom van den Brink is not surprised about the minister’s letter. “It’s true that we didn’t agree on a joint proposal. We are not a huge fan of this, also because we feel that the CDA motion is unviable. The motion assumes that all institutions will still comply with the investments to which they had committed. I no longer see this happening. Furthermore, we believe that the funds from the loan system belong to the students. We should make annual decisions on how to spend it, in consultation with the Staff and Student Participation Councils. It shouldn’t be a quick fix because the government is not investing enough in higher education.”