Higher education is a right, but only to a certain extent. After the bachelor’s level you have to pay for it. The first maxim of the evening gives the seven members of the panel – students and alumni; all members of student organisations and political parties – a chance to introduce their styles of debate. Kim Vogten, member of the right-wing political party VVD, strikes out at what she sees as an unreasonable idea. “The Netherlands wants to be in the top 5 knowledge economies in the world. The government should encourage people to get a master’s degree.” Her neighbour Willemijn Bulsing from the ISO (a national student organisation of which DOPE is part) agrees. “A bachelor’s degree is not a starting qualification for employers. It’s hard to get a job with only a BA to your name.”
But where will the money for education come from, now that we are in the midst of an economic crisis? a member of the panel asks. Bulsing from the ISO wants to cut down on the number of study programmes. “Particularly within the HBO system [higher vocational education –ed.], we have an extreme number of programmes.” But that will cut down our choices, someone in the audience argues. “It’s a loss of academic freedom.” Others aren’t sure if this will be beneficial. “The number of students will stay the same.”
Vogten from the VVD calls for a type of social loan system. Nobody would get a grant, but everybody could get a loan from the government. “It would save €1.1 billion, which you could then invest in education.” Gert-Jan Krabbendam, who studied medicine in Maastricht and is a member of the Dutch Green party, would prefer for everyone to get a grant (“students shouldn’t be forced to work, they should be able to do what they want to do: study”) and for an ‘academic tax’ to be introduced. “The strongest shoulders should carry the heaviest weight. People who have had the chance to study must pay more tax.”
So are students willing to pay a higher tuition fee for a second master’s? “Excellent students must have the possibility to broaden their minds”, argues Bob Borggreve, member of the Dutch Christian Democrat party (CDA). So there should be no higher tuition fees for this category. But how would you decide who is excellent? Krabbendam wants to know. “It’s not that difficult”, says Bernard Gauw from student party NovUM. “We also do it with scholarships.” Anything is possible, responds Vogten, “but imagine all the bureaucratic costs”.
Parents who can afford it pay for their children’s studies. The government money is for the others, is one of the last maxims of the evening. “What’s wealthy?” Kim Vogten of the conservative party wants to know. “These parents studied a lot, worked hard and now they’re punished because they have to pay for their children.” Paying tax is not a punishment, says Krabbendam, who is growing slightly angry. “If you’re wealthy you can help others.” In the audience a student says softly: “Does the VVD student seriously think that everybody has the same chances? Society doesn’t work like that. My God, she is so right wing.”