Deeltijdstudent moet wachten

Er komt voorlopig geen oplossing voor deeltijdstudenten die het verhoogde collegegeld voor langstudeerders moeten betalen. Staatssecretaris Zijlstra stelt zijn ‘brede verkenning’ van het deeltijdonderwijs een paar maanden uit.

Het was misschien wel het meest gevoelige onderwerp in het debat over de langstudeermaatregel. Die pakte vooral nadelig uit voor universitaire deeltijdopleidingen. Zij moeten hun deuren misschien wel sluiten als hun studenten straks even snel moeten studeren als reguliere studenten.

Zowel in de Eerste als Tweede Kamer stuitte het plan op veel weerstand, en niet alleen bij de oppositie. De senatoren van regeringsfracties CDA en VVD waren weliswaar niet bereid de wet erop af te keuren, maar ze vroegen wel om een oplossing en deden zelf ook voorstellen. Zo pleitte Zijlstra’s eigen VVD voor een uitzondering voor deeltijders ouder dan dertig jaar.

Maar de staatssecretaris is bang dat er dan een vluchtroute zal ontstaan. Studenten zouden zich gaan inschrijven als deeltijdstudent om langer over hun opleiding te mogen doen en het verhoogde collegegeld voor langstudeerders te omzeilen. Verder wijst hij er telkens op dat deeltijders in het hbo over het algemeen net zo snel studeren als reguliere studenten. In het wetenschappelijk onderwijs ligt dat anders, erkent hij, maar daar gaat het volgens hem maar om een kleine groep studenten.

De regeringspartijen namen uiteindelijk genoegen met de toezegging van Zijlstra dat hij een ‘brede verkenning’ van het deeltijdonderwijs zou laten uitvoeren. Daar zou hij in december van dit jaar over berichten.

Maar de staatssecretaris vraagt nu meer tijd. Hij wil namelijk aansluiten bij een advies van de Sociaal-Economische Raad over post-initiële scholing, dat eigenlijk in december zou verschijnen maar dat is uitgesteld tot februari. “Ik zal uw Kamer daarom de brief over het deeltijdonderwijs pas in maart 2012 kunnen toesturen.”


All was quiet on the ‘Delftse front last week, but elsewhere around the country Dutch students hit the streets to protest the Dutch government’s plans for higher education. Dutch university students will see their grants cut from four years down to three, and students will be charged between 3,000-5,000 euro for every ‘extra’ year (beyond four years for Bachelor’s and two years for Master’s students) it takes them to complete their degrees and graduate.
The government says this will save money and motivate students to study harder. Many students and educators say the plans will decimate Dutch educational standards in a misguided effort to fix a system that isn’t broke.
This clash of ideals led to two organised student protest last week in Amsterdam and Wageningen, which, following the recent violent student protests in London, added an edge of excitement to the proceedings. For many international students, protests in our home countries are either forbidden; a ‘luxury’ we can’t afford given our time/money pressures; or end with gangs of thuggish police beating protestors with truncheons.

The protests by Dutch students last week in Amsterdam and Wageningen were however something quite different. Rather than violent anger, as in London, there was more an air of mocking derision and hypocrisy aimed at top Dutch politicians. In Wageningen students started protesting at 12 noon on Friday, December 10 with typical ‘hup-Holland-hup’ style’ songs – ‘Beste meneer Rutte, daar gaat uw ideaal’ (‘Dear Mr Rutte, there goes your personal model’) – that targeted the inherent hypocrisy of politicians – Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Economic Minister Maxime Verhagen, and State Secretary for Education Halbe Zijlstra – who themselves collectively took many ‘extra’ years to graduate but were now implementing a plan forcing today’s students to pay for what they got for free. Economics Minister Verhagen particularly came in for much abuse, as it took him 11 years to complete his undergraduate history degree.

So what was it, many students asked: were these ‘slow-studying’ politicians admitting that their entire careers were based on nothing but laziness and luck? That the new Dutch government was run by lazy misfits who had once abused the Dutch higher education system? That these three Dutch politicians should thus resign from government as an honest statement of the ‘old’ Dutch educational system’s failure? Or, rather, should they simply admit that their obvious career successes – Dutch Prime Minister, Economics Minister – were proof that the ‘good old’ Dutch education system actually worked?

In Wageningen, the protest involved hundreds of students congregating on campus, supported by various Wageningen University (WUR) alumni and professors.
“Generally, it’s unwise policy to cut on education and research, because a very high percentage of the international Dutch economy is based on this and we’d like to keep it that way,” said Professor Pim Brascamp, director of WUR’s education and research centre. “It’s an issue of priorities, and if university wants to cut finances, then it’s definitely not the way it should be done. To make studying more efficient and effective, I’m not be against a financial trigger, but this one is too heavy.”
In fact many WUR students and academics were not protesting against the extra fees but rather fighting for the Netherlands’ future. “The only way for the Netherlands to remain part of the world economy is to produce knowledge,” said Gilles Havik, a WUR MSc student. “The country’s small, and if education goes down then we’ll have nothing left to produce but tulips and weed. Fact is we can’t produce anything else but knowledge, and that’s why I’m protesting.”
With no burnt tires, broken store windows or beaten citizens, WUR’s protest was a decidedly tranquil affair.

Dam square
On to Amsterdam, where thousands of student protesters marched around the city centre in opposition to the government. Gathering at Amsterdam’s Dam Square were students, political party representatives and policemen. Here though the atmosphere was more tense and international in character, with a member of the Trotskyite international Socialists Party, who preferred to remain anonymous and had also been involved in London’s student protests, warning: “We’re not here today to change the government’s decision but rather to show we’re serious and there will be more demonstrations and protests – this is only the first step.”

Talking to various Dam Square protestors, the general points of contention seemingly centred on the issue of ‘rich vs poor’ and a government stupidly ignoring the long-term problems that will arise from the education policy.
“The poor are getting poorer and rich people will simply continue at the same pace,” said Jan van Veen, a Socialist Party representative. “If you work to pay fees, you might not cope with the pace of the study, so you take longer, and eventually you have to pay additional fees and work more, decreasing your education level, so that the people who don’t have much money get the worst of it.”

Bas Block, a Bachelor’s student in social sciences at Utrecht University: “We’re spoiled people here in the Netherlands and do need some motivation. So I’m not against the fee. My problem is with how the new policies were presented to students. The government obviously must make exceptions for students who delay their studies to do useful things like organising student association activities.”

Interestingly, rather than wielding truncheons, policemen monitoring the protest shared some of students’ concerns (although anonymously), saying the government’s controversial policy would both positively and negatively impact students and the country.
For this foreign correspondent, the protests were, ultimately, an inspiring example of how when citizens and governors disagree, open communication is the only viable point of reference for the two groups. And the Dutch students were mature enough to peacefully gather in the streets and coherently express their views on the issues.

Ultimately though – as many international students from less prosperous countries will recognise – the issue was really about money. “I’m against fees, because this shows that education is becoming more controlled by money, which dissolves the purpose of education, which is about expanding ideas, growth and making yourself a better person,” said Maxime van de Broek, a history student at VU Amsterdam University. “Studies like philosophy, history and other social sciences will be abandoned, because student’s will simply aim to educate themselves in ways that lead to higher paid jobs so they can pay off their student loans.”

Editor Redactie

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