Coalition agreement: new basic student grant, more funding for research

The basic grant returns, small degree programmes will have to be kept, and the binding study advice will be changed. The new cabinet will also invest in unfettered research.

In the next ten years, the government wants to invest 10 billion euros in science, or 500 million euros a year. That is less than the billion that the universities are asking for. (Photo: Justyna Botor)

This is all specified in the new coalition agreement Omzien naar elkaar, vooruitkijken naar de toekomst (looking after each other, looking forward to the future), which has just been presented after the longest development in the history of Dutch politics.

Study funding
“We want everyone to be able to study, regardless of the income of the parents,” write the four parties VVD, D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie. “In our process, we have given attention to how well this can be implemented and maintained.”

The basic grant will return as of September 2023; that information had already been leaked. An additional grant will also remain available. Students will also keep their student public transport cards.

Furthermore, the loan conditions will remain the same. Students are therefore allowed to take 35 years to pay off their debt. In the former student funding scheme (until September 2015), this was fifteen years, with higher monthly amounts.

The investments in higher education, which were why the basic grant was eliminated, will be retained. One billion euros have also been earmarked for the compensation of students who have missed out on the basic grant.

Part of this compensation (250 million euros) will be cut back on in the National Education Programme in 2023, which is intended to eliminate cognitive and socio-emotional deficits in education.

Remove the perverse incentive to recruit as many students as possible

One billion euros is not a large sum for this compensation, compared to the scenarios that the officials from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW )had listed (between 1.4 and 11 billion euros). The students without a basic grant will soon be able to choose: a discount on their student debt or a voucher for additional schooling. Exact amounts per student are yet to be specified.

Over the next ten years, the government wants to invest 5 billion euros in science (500 million euros per year). The money will be provided through a special fund and is intended for “free and unfettered research and development”.

The cabinet also wants to offer universities and universities of applied sciences more room for manoeuvre “to address the workload, offer permanent contracts, and maintain balanced offerings in regions with cutbacks”.

The funding of higher education is being adjusted for this purpose: the cabinet’s goal is to remove the “perverse incentive” to recruit as many students as possible. The funding per student will therefore be lower. Instead, the cabinet would like to “review and raise” the base amount. That is the sum that the educational institutions receive regardless of student numbers.

The opportunity to better control the flow of international students

Furthermore, there will be a “better balance” between what are called the first and second funding streams in the Netherlands: the funding that goes directly to the educational institutions and the money that educational institutions can obtain through competition from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), which funds research.

All this policy will be paid for from a budget of 700 million euros per year. But more things have to be paid for, such as the arrival of a technology department in senior general secondary education (HAVO), small-scale vocational education, student welfare, and “labour-market-relevant vocational training”.

A law has been prepared in the Dutch Senate for the internationalisation of higher education. This law is intended to put a stop to pervasive English in higher education. Furthermore, educational institutions will be given the opportunity to better control the flow of international students.

“If the existing instruments and those yet to be introduced turn out to be insufficient to manage the bursts in the (international) student numbers,” the parties write in their agreement, “then we will look into whether new instruments are needed.”

Small Degree Programmes
“Universities must work together for the sake of small study programmes and for Dutch language and culture and also guarantee comprehensive and appropriate offerings in the future,” according to the four parties. Small degree programmes should therefore not simply be discontinued.

Programmes that select must substantiate this

Furthermore, Bachelor’s students must always be able to go to their own university for their Master’s: “We are ensuring that every Bachelor’s student can do the subsequent Master’s at the same institution, while leaving room to establish a profile.” This profile is likely intended to allow universities to put their own stamp on the process.

Selection and BSA
The initial selection process is also a hot topic. A large part of the Dutch House of Representatives takes issue with it, while the others would actually like to see a stricter selection process. The compromise: programmes need to explain their choices better. “Programmes with a selection process must substantiate how that procedure suits the content of the programme, is effective, and guarantees equal opportunities,” the agreement states.

The binding study advice will be less stringent. “Students who do not meet the BSA standard in the first year will still have the opportunity to satisfy the standard for points in the second year,” according to the new agreement.

However, there are exceptions: in the event of “obviously insufficient study progress”, the institution still has the option of dismissing students at the end of the first year. If that is the case, the student must receive guidance for finding a programme “better suited” to them. “With this adapted BSA, we are also contributing to increasing student welfare,” the parties believe.

Freedom and Equal Opportunities
“We encourage the free and safe exchange of ideas and safeguard the academic freedom of scientists,” according to the agreement. Open science and open education will become the norm — at least, as long as national security is not compromised. Furthermore, the new cabinet will establish “frameworks” for scientific collaboration with more restricted countries: there has been much discussion about this recently.

The parties would like academics to find teaching more appealing

In its own country, too, the cabinet is cautious about ideas that threaten freedom. “We will stop funding if there is evidence that an institution is engaged in anti-government law practices,” the agreement states. That could refer to the Islamic University of Applied Sciences Rotterdam, which the VVD in particular would like to take stricter action against.

The cabinet also writes: “We promote the equal treatment of students from MBO, HBO, and WO.” It is not entirely clear what the cabinet is referring to, but perhaps it concerns internship reimbursement and discrimination on the labour market.

Teacher training
In the struggle against the teacher shortage, the new cabinet wants to focus on “strengthening the quality of teacher training programmes”, according to the agreement, “with attention to effective teaching methodology, specialisations in younger or older children, digital skills, and suitable education.”

Remove all kinds of obstacles in the construction and purchase of housing

Furthermore, the parties would like academics to find teaching more appealing. “We are increasing the influx from academia.” It also states: “We will support new teachers and make the programme better and more flexible for those transferring from other fields.” Continued training is reportedly going to become a “priority”.

The housing shortage among students is also discussed in the agreement. “In view of the acute shortages of housing for students, people in desperate need of immediate housing, migrant workers, and the homeless, the aim is to build 15,000 temporary residences annually and to achieve an additional 15,000 units through the transformation of office space into housing.”

The government wants to remove all kinds of obstacles in the construction and purchase of housing. “For young professionals, the current status of their student debt is decisive when applying for a mortgage.” In other words, it’s not their original student loan amount that matters; it’s the current amount owed. The question is what that will actually do, since the monthly repayment at DUO will not change as a result.

Furthermore, there will be a “duty to report, registration obligation, or rental permit, particularly for ‘larger-scale landlords’”. According to the parties, this will allow municipalities to tackle discrimination and deceitful landlords in a more targeted manner.

HOP, Bas Belleman
Translation: Taalcentrum-VU

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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