[Column] Unlucky students

Bas Rooijakkers started studying in the year that the basic student grant was scrapped. Looking at his mountain of debt, he asks himself how it will affect his future.

Bas Rooijakkers: “Until a new Cabinet takes office, I’m holding my breath.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

At one of the first graduation drinks I ever attended, after all the fun and a few hilarious but embarassing presentations, the party was ended with the bicycle of the graduate being thrown into the canal. Strange thing to do, isn’t it? The thought behind it was that the new graduate is now an engineer and will earn bucketloads of money and won’t need a rusty old bike anymore. This thought still plays around in my head.

You will not have missed it: the new Cabinet plans to bring back the basic student grant. It was scrapped in 2015, the year that I started studying, and the planning is now to bring it back in 2024, just when I hope to graduate. This means that I am part of the unlucky generation that not only studied during the pandemic, but will also have an additional study debt.

The Cabinet will help us though. We will receive EUR 1 billion in compensation, the equivalent of EUR 1,000 per student. This caused a national outcry and a protest against this decision will be held on 5 February on the Dam in Amsterdam. I still remember that Jesse Klaver (GreenLeft party leader, Eds.) proposed giving everyone EUR 10,000 during the last campaign. At the time, students thought this was too little as they had missed out on a lot of money by not receiving the basic student grant. So I really understand that the EUR 1,000 feels like a kick in the balls. Personally, I find it hard to get really angry about this because I have believed in the story of the bicycle over the last years. Everything will be fine for me. But I do now see that this is not the case for everyone.

It feels less and less like free money

Not everyone with a hefty loan will drive around in an expensive lease car after graduating. Most students will not become lawyers, engineers or doctors and earn lots of money. We are also talking about the badly needed teachers and nurses of the future who are now saddled with an even bigger debt. These important jobs are paid less and they will be in debt to the Government for a long time.

Now that I am approaching the end of my studies, it feels less and less like free money. I was shocked when I last looked at DUO.nl. What does that mountain of debt mean for the future? With that much debt you will not be able to borrow as much later and will get a less affordable mortgage and will thus acquire even more debt. I can imagine that when I start job hunting and are offered some jobs that I will sooner choose the less fun but more lucrative job just so that I can pay off the debt.

When I graduate I will still throw my rusty bicycle in the water – it’s still a fun ritual – but EUR 1,000 doesn’t feel like much. It has never been fair, I know that too, but this feels unreasonable. So I will be on the Dam on 5 February. I hope I see you there.

Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.

Bas Rooijakkers / Columnist

Columnist Bas Rooijakkers

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