NETHERLANDS. Prime Minister Mark Rutte was clear: the government was not going to start tampering with the student loan system. There might, however, be some money left over to tackle the teacher shortage.
He listened “with great interest” to different views on the student loan system, but on the second day of the General Political Debate Rutte himself did not change his position. The prime minister stuck to the coalition agreement, and therefore to the student loan system.
A day earlier, debates on the budget presented by the government on Budget Day made it clear that his coalition partners, CDA and ChristenUnie, were willing in principle to discuss an alternative; however, Rutte saw this as being part of the 2021 election campaign. “Unfortunately, the prime minister’s sensitive political antennae have let him down this time,” reacted DENK party chairman Kuzu.
The prime minister was, however, willing to make a cautious commitment to extra funding to tackle the current shortage of primary school teachers. “In the coming weeks, the government is willing to examine whether for 2020 additional one-off funds might be available to solve urgent bottlenecks,” said Rutte. He gave no figures, but did stipulate a condition: a CAO (collective labour agreement) would first have to be in place for primary school teachers.
He emphasised that these teachers’ salaries could not be paid out of the knowledge and innovation investment fund on which the government is working. “How, then, is education going to benefit from that fund?” the ChristenUnie, D66 and other parties wanted to know. “For instance, could a vocational training school, a technical university, and a regional company, with a good plan for earning capacity in that region, present a joint investment application to the government?” asked D66 party leader Rob Jetten.
Rutte could not give an immediate answer. While giving no examples, he could say only that it was irregular and non-structural projects that contributed towards earning capacity. Everyone was welcome to pitch ideas, which would then be assessed by an independent body. “One has to be strict about this, to prevent lobbies and unprofessional bodies making off with the money,” he warned.
The day before, the GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver had asked him whether the investment fund meant that the government could put ‘on hold’ the shift of money towards the technical universities, but Rutte did not return to this topic.
HOP, Melanie Zierse