In the last few weeks, student protests in The Netherlands have suddenly become a quite hot topic. A sit-in at the Roeterseilandcampus, a protest at Dam Square with hundreds of students, and many more. But why are students in The Netherlands protesting? In this article, I will try and explain what has bought us here.
To begin with, I’ll tell you a few things about the Dutch educational system, especially in terms of money. Until 2015, students would get a basic study grant from the government. In other words, everyone would get a certain amount of money to, at least partially, fund their studies. The sum depended on whether you lived at your parents’ or on your own. If this wasn’t enough, there was an option to borrow more money, which you later had to pay back to the government. For people whose parents had lowers incomes, there would be a supplementary grant.
Then, the government decided that such a system was unfair and removed the basic grants altogether. Ever since 2015, anyone who’s interested in pursuing a higher education degree, but cannot independently pay the tuition fees, has to borrow the money from the government. The supplementary grant still exists, so a little help is provided for people whose parents have a lower income.
Quickly, these student loans started to represent a problem. In many cases, the stress caused by such a system led students to experience unprecedented mental health issues. After all, the longer you study, the more money you spend. As a consequence, moving out while studying is hardly an option. Switching studies has also gotten expensive and fewer people proceed with a Master’s once they finish their Bachelor’s program. And even if people do take longer, a big part of them experiences mental health issues because of the stress over their student debt.
Paying back the money over your later working years is not the only problem about the student depts. In the current housing crisis, it is already not easy to find a place to live, but having to do it with an increasing debt weighing on your shoulders, surely doesn’t make it easier. And then there is the insecurity about the interest rates. For years there has been said that you borrow money under the best conditions, that there is currently no interest rate for your student debts, you just pay back the amount of money you have borrowed. However, this interest rate changes time by time, and there has currently been news going around about the fact that the interest rates might actually go up.
All of these issues have made study conditions much harder. But they have also increased inequality. Indeed, students who belong to wealthy families have much more opportunities, while not-so-lucky ones struggle to float in a pool of debts.
All of these issues have made study conditions much harder. But they have also increased inequality. Indeed, students who belong to wealthy families have much more opportunities, while not-so-lucky ones struggle to float in a pool of debts. After all, if you happen to have parents who can buy you an apartment, or can afford to pay for some extra years of studying, all the problems I’ve mentioned in the previous section simply cease to exist. At least for you. Over the last years, most politicians have come to terms with the fact that they have made a mistake. And that is where we are at now.
Getting Basic Study Grants Back
The reason the protests are currently so big is because of the new government’s plans. Indeed, politicians have decided to bring back the basic study grants by 2023. But now, of course, this is not exactly the problem. While the initiative is mostly supported by students, it also raised complaints among those who fall in between and thus remain “uncovered”. Because even though the government has put aside some money to compensate for such a category, this hardly makes a difference to individual students. In The Netherlands, the current generation of students has therefore become known as the “pechgeneratie”, or else the “bad luck generation”. A generation whose study conditions are worse than both past and future ones.
The current generation of students is thus asking for higher compensation, underlining how a study voucher of a thousand euros won’t help them repay their debts. They need more.
This is the reason why students have been taking over Dam Square and protesting at Roeterseilandcampus. On their signs, you can read things such as “Depth Fabric” and “Niet Onze Schuld”, which translates to both “Not Our Depth” and “Not Our Fault”. The current generation of students is thus asking for higher compensation, underlining how a study voucher of a thousand euros won’t help them repay their debts. They need more.
Next time you see a student protest at a Dutch University or you hear something about it on the news, hopefully, you will know a little more about these protests.
Cover by: OpenClipart-Vectors
Editor: Cecilia Begal