Off campus
Substantial cuts

This is what the Dutch coalition agreement says about higher education

Fewer international students, significant cuts in higher education and science, and extra money for students belonging to the so-called bad luck generation. These are some of the resolutions in the outline agreement between PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB.

(Photo: The Hague & Partners)

The four parties PVV, NSC, VVD and BBB agreed on a final coalition agreement during the night from Wednesday to Thursday. ‘Hope, guts and pride’ is the name of this outline agreement. In 26 pages, the parties lay out far-reaching plans for higher education.

1. Fewer study migrants

Fewer international students should come to the Netherlands, the four parties think. Over time, they want to save 293 million euros per year on higher education this way.

It mainly concerns a restriction of student migration in the Bachelor’s degree programmes, “excepting programmes where there are labour market shortages, taking into account local circumstances”, the agreement reads.

This means the Master’s programmes will remain unaffected for the time being. This does raise the questions of who will determine the exceptions and what local circumstances can play a role. The parties are saying they want to conclude an administrative agreement.

They also want an enrolment limit for international students, a “restriction on obtaining a basic student grant” for European students and an “increase in tuition fees for non-EU students”.

2. Cuts to students

1.4 billion euros has been freed up for an extra compensation for students belonging to the so-called bad luck generation. This will probably replace the lower interest rate on student debt that was mentioned earlier.

But students will also face considerable cuts. The penalty for slow students is making a comeback. Students will have to pay three thousand euros extra in tuition fees if they take longer than one year extra to finish their Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Over time, this will bring in 280 million euros per year, the four parties estimate.

Austerity measures for student financing have also been announced. Students will no longer receive a public transport allowance if they go abroad to study. This applies both to exchange students and to students completing an entire programme abroad. This represents about 30 million euros per year.

Another resolution in the agreement: “Continuation requirements will not be relaxed and the options for selective admission will remain unchanged.” So these things will stay the same.

3. Less funding for science

The axe will be taken to science. The four parties want to get rid of the funding (215 million euros per year) for the national sector plans, in which universities make joint agreements about their education and research.

The Fund for Research and Science will be cut by 1.1 billion euros in the years ahead. The National Growth Fund, which was to reinforce the knowledge economy, had already been shut down and this will remain the case: this means a cut of 6.8 billion euros in the next ten years.

4. Knowledge migration will be discouraged

It will also be less easy for foreign employees with specific knowledge to enter the country. “The qualification requirements in the knowledge migration scheme will be tightened and increased.”

5. Promotion of the Dutch language

Study-related migration will automatically become ‘more selective’, the parties think, once there are “more degree programmes in Dutch”. This again raises the question of who’s in control: the programmes themselves or the minister?

Elsewhere, it says: “Promoting Dutch language skills will once again become a core task of knowledge institutions in Higher Education. ‘Anglicisation’ will be reduced, with strategic exceptions for programmes for professions experiencing shortages.”

6. Knowledge security focused on espionage

Knowledge security is also mentioned. “The Netherlands must not be naive when it comes to state actors that send people here or that control their espionage activities here”, the parties think. “Measures will be taken to protect our knowledge.”

“There will be a greater focus on tackling digital threats by state actors and cybercriminals”, one of the points reads. “Close collaboration between government, security services, science and business will be encouraged.”

7. Funding less dependent on student numbers

The funding of higher education will be slightly less dependent on the number of students. This is important for institutions facing a decline in the number of students, especially in areas where enrolment numbers are declining.

The ramifications depend on the implementation, but the agreement reads as follows: “For the funding of higher education we will make a partial switch to capacity funding to keep afloat programmes that are facing declining student numbers but that are important for the labour market or the region.”

Where do we go from here?

Now the outline agreement is here, a prominent figure will be appointed to form the new government team. None of the four faction leaders will be a member of thecabinet, the final report of the inquirers reads.

This means Geert Wilders will not become prime minister. Over the past few days, Ronald Plasterk’s name has been making the rounds. He’s a former Minister of Education and Internal Affairs, who at one time aspired to be the leader of PvdA.

Plasterk is a biologist and former winner of the Spinoza Prize, the Netherlands’ most prestigious scientific award. Recent news reports say he made a lot of money with a patent to which someone else may be entitled.

He became an inquirer in December, after PVV Senator Gom van Strien had resigned his duties following formal allegations of fraud against him by his former employer, a Utrecht University affiliate.

HOP, Bas Belleman

HOP Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

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