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Higher education: no money for equality of opportunity

Higher education: no money for equality of opportunity


Budget Day 2016

THE NETHERLANDS. The government is failing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to providing equal opportunities for everyone, according to students and educational institutions. The budget for the coming year was presented on Tuesday – it is always announced on Prinsjesdag, the third Tuesday of September – with the new plans being unveiled by King Willem-Alexander. The topic of education received only the briefest of mentions.

Education minister Bussemaker and state secretary Dekker do want to fight inequality of opportunity, they say in the new education budget. They have set aside €55 million, mainly for primary, secondary and vocational education.

Higher education was not mentioned at all in the King’s address. However, he did refer to major reforms put in place in education and other areas, “often with the support of opposition parties and social organisations”. Presumably he was referring here to the abolition of the basic grant for students.

Science was not mentioned either, or at most in the form of innovation: “The consequences of climate change require substantial investments and innovations in sustainable energy sources, such as wind, water and sunlight.” The government appears to see the need for major investments in energy, sustainability, accessibility and education, but prefers not to contribute too much itself: “The government will present proposals to support these investments where needed.”

The Dutch National Students Association (ISO) is less than impressed that students were virtually ignored in the address. The budget has something for just about everyone, the ISO scoffs, except students. “It’s like a party where students are turned away at the door.” The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) is disappointed that the effects of the loan system will not be compensated in some way.

The university association VSNU is not happy either. “The lack of significant investment in higher education and research is a missed opportunity”, says its president Karl Dittrich. “With the economy going well and the government handing out extras all over the place, education and research deserve more attention.”

Universities are calling on the government to make available sooner the money it is saving now that the basic grant has been scrapped. This would enable them to reduce class sizes and hire additional lecturers, allowing students to reap the benefits of improved quality.

Meanwhile, scientists and entrepreneurs called on Tuesday for the next government to invest an extra €1 billion annually in research and innovation to help tackle complex societal challenges. In the National Research Agenda presented last spring, stakeholders called for an additional half a billion euros to be earmarked for research. That figure has now been bumped up to €1 billion. “Of the extra billion, half should go to areas involving major transitions: the implementation of the energy accord, the integration of refugees, combating of climate change and the development of future-proof healthcare innovations. The other half should be used to strengthen research, innovation and collaboration more broadly.”

The money is also necessary to reverse the effects of coming cutbacks. If nothing is done the budgets for research and innovation could drop by half a billion euros, according to the Knowledge Coalition, which brings together universities and universities of applied sciences, businesses, medical centres and other organisations.




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