13 February 2017 • HOP, by Bas Belleman and Irene Schoenmacker
The 2017 elections: how will you vote?
The elections for the Lower House will be held on 15 March. Your vote will help determine where higher education is heading. What do the political parties think about the hot topics?
The election programmes contain all kinds of ideas, and the parties are conducting many debates. On Monday, they will confront each other about higher education and research. Let’s take a close look at the most important topics.
The grant / the student travel card
When they ditched the basic grant, the governing parties (VVD and PvdA) needed the help of D66 and GroenLinks. This move added thousands of euros to the costs of being a student in higher education; on the other hand, it’s generating seven to eight hundred million euros (not billion – don’t misread the ‘m’ as a ‘b’) for higher education.
It’s always been a touchy subject. In 2015, the first ‘expensive’ academic year, it looked as if young people from poorer families were getting cold feet when faced with the high costs for higher education, and not as many handicapped students enrolled either.
D66 and GroenLinks want to do something about this: these students should be getting more financial support. The PvdA is also inclining in this direction but is waiting for more research findings. GroenLinks wants to cut the statutory tuition fees so that higher education becomes less expensive for everyone. Other parties (SP and ChristenUnie) simply want to reintroduce the basic grant. The CDA wants to re-implement the basic grant but only for bachelor’s degree students: master’s degree students should be able to manage without it.
The VVD sees things differently A higher education diploma is a very good investment in yourself, according to the liberals, and we should simply explain this so that young people understand it. Graduates usually earn a good salary and will easily be able to repay their student loan debt; if they can’t, it will eventually be waived anyway.
What about the student travel card? Everyone’s in favour of it these days. D66 even wants to make the card valid seven days a week. The CDA wanted to change it to a card that can be used only for getting to school and back but its own members axed this idea.
What the Cabinet is hoping for, however, is to be able to cut these travel costs by two hundred million euros by having students travel more often outside of rush hours. This money would be included in Bussemaker’s ‘billion’ that would benefit higher education.
A reintroduction of the basic grant?
In favour: CDA, SP, ChristenUnie
Against: VVD, PvdA, D66, GroenLinks, SGP
Participation in decision-making
OK: the extra millions made available by the introduction of the student loan system should ultimately improve higher education. But how do you monitor quality? Some suggest asking students and lecturers to be the judge. After all, since they know exactly what’s going, they should have more input – even if this were only to hold megalomaniac school administrators in check.
Some things have changed already in recent years: Participation Councils are now allowed to have a say in the budget for their educational institution (broadly speaking, anyway), and this September, each Degree Programme Advisory Committee will be given more influence over its own educational programme. Some parties think this is enough: staff and students should just make good use of their existing participation rights. Other parties want to go even further.
More influence: GroenLinks, D66, SP
Enough (or too much) influence: VVD, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie, SGP
A second degree programme: expensive or not?
If you want to enrol in a second degree programme after your bachelor’s or master’s programme, you’ll have to dig deep into your pocket. You’ll easily be paying 10 to 15 thousand euros a year. Some parties think this is far too much. The government should simply be giving institutions of higher education more funding for these students so that they can continue their education and be charged the normal tuition rate (around 2,000 euros).
Other parties think there are too many exceptions already. If you start on your second degree programme while still enrolled in your first, for example, you can finish it at the standard tuition rate. You get the same kind of break if you later retrain for a career in the care or education professions. Essentially, the government is contributing to one bachelor’s degree and one master’s degree: the rest you should manage yourself. This might sound well and good, say parties like the PvdA, but the government can only shell out its money once. Update on 13 February: The PvdA still wants to enable institutions of higher education to charge the standard tuition fees for a second degree programme.
Making a second degree programme cheaper:
In favour: D66, GroenLinks, ChristenUnie, SP, SGP, PvdA
Unannounced opinion: CDA
Not everyone can enrol in the degree programme of his or her choice: some degree programmes engage in pre-enrolment selection. Not all parties are pleased with this. Parties like the SP and GroenLinks want to eliminate this pre-selection entirely except for certain degree programmes such as studying at the conservatory or studying medicine. Their main concern is to prevent late-bloomers from missing out.
D66 is also extremely critical in this regard. MP for D66 Paul van Meenen even called pre-selection ‘an evil’, but his party’s official line on this is less extreme. Pre-selection can be useful, but D66 ‘would rather have no pre-selection than the kind that, even unintentionally, would rob a talented person of an opportunity’. The PvdA thinks so, too.
The VVD, however, is absolutely opposed. This party even goes so far as to suggest that degree programmes should be given more freedom in this regard. When graduates are having little success in finding work or when intake is extremely high, degree programmes should be allowed to limit their admissions to only ‘highly motivated’ candidates. The CDA wants to allow pre-selection for teacher training degree programmes, and the SGP wants to allow more selective two-year master’s degree programmes. The ChristenUnie wants to be rid of graduating masses of students from certain degree programmes and thinks that pre-selection could help.
In favour of pre-selection: VVD, CDA, SGP, ChristenUnie
Preferably not: PvdA, D66
Every student welcome: SP, GroenLinks
An increasing number of students is coming here from other countries. At Maastricht University, only one in three first-year students comes from the Netherlands. Universities in particular are starting to offer more degree programmes taught in English in order to attract these students. Since the number of millions this is generating is now known, only the PVV is still really opposing this.
A more sensitive issue is the expansionism that certain educational institutions are promoting. Should a branch campus of the University of Groningen be built in China? What about the human rights issue there, and who would bear the costs if these plans run totally amuck? According to the proponents, all the parties could arrive at good agreements about these possible outcomes; besides, this expansion would offer lots of opportunities. The VVD would like to encourage this kind of entrepreneurship while the SP is completely opposed to it. The PvdA also has reservations about a campus in China, but why shouldn’t a university or a university of applied sciences at a location like the Netherlands Antilles be permitted to offer good degree programmes?
Other parties grumble about letting foreign students enrol in degree programmes (especially the technical ones) that involve a decentralised pre-selection process. According to them, Dutch students should be given preference. Some parties (SP, SGP, PvdA and PVV) also fear that the Dutch language will become ‘degraded’ if higher education teaches its degree programmes in English.
Should Dutch students be given preference for degree programmes that use decentralised pre-selection?
Absolutely PVV, SP, CDA, SGP
Unnecessary: PvdA, GroenLinks, D66, VVD, ChristenUnie
‘Thinking in terms of output’ and ‘performance agreements’
Do institutions of higher education deserve to be punished when their teaching efforts lead to deficient results? Should they have to force students to complete their degree programme faster? Or do such ideas lead to an intellectual desert in which students and educational institutions are only afraid to make mistakes?
This is a hot topic in higher education. The key phrase here is ‘thinking in terms of output’. The discussion focuses on the performance agreements that institutions of higher education have to arrive at with the Ministry of Education: things like the rate at which students are completing their degree programmes, the number of class hours, and refresher courses for lecturers, etc., etc. A school that performs well, gets more money; any that don’t reach their objectives, lose part of their funding.
The VVD is a huge proponent of these kinds of agreements (they would even like to have them ‘substantially expanded’), but this isn’t the only party with similar ideas. The SGP, on the other hand, would like to limit the proliferation of plans, agendas and policy instruments, and GroenLinks and the SP would also prefer to dump the performance agreements altogether. The standpoints of other parties are somewhere in the middle. The CDA, D66, ChristenUnie and PvdA, for instance, want to have educational institutions arrive at ‘quality guidelines’ with their own students, lecturers and other interested parties. What should happen if these guidelines aren’t followed, however, is still unclear.
The parties are still reluctant to say anything about the upcoming quality guidelines.
The small parties and the PVV
But we still haven’t talked much about the smaller parties and one-issue parties. The Party for the Animals (Partij voor de Dieren) not only opposes animal testing but would also like to reintroduce the basic grant. DENK is also in favour of this and is conducting a campaign aimed particularly against discrimination. 50Plus not only wants to lower the retirement age and look after pensions; it also wants to prevent young people from being saddled with debts and is advocating a return to the basic grant.
This time, the PVV has an election programme of just one page; Harm Beertema, its spokesman for education, was unavailable for comment. The PVV was formerly in favour of the basic grant, but the Stemwijzer (an online survey giving participants an idea of which party they should vote for) says that this party does not favour its reintroduction. Beertema had little sympathy for demonstrating students: they should start by making use of the rights they already have.