Unanimous support for ‘tuition-free’ extra year for students with delays: what now?

10-02-2021

THE NETHERLANDS. Many students are falling behind in their studies due to the coronavirus crisis. The House of Representatives has just adopted a motion allowing them to enrol in an extra year of university free of charge. But it is too early to celebrate.

Taking an extra year to catch up on missed requirements in these coronavirus times, without having to pay tuition: this proposal launched by GroenLinks and D66 passed unanimously this afternoon. Not a single party cast a vote against.

For good reason

Does that mean that all those with study delays can now breathe easier? Not entirely. Because, although compliance is customary, ministers have the right not to implement motions, if they have a good reason for doing so.

This happened recently, for example, with a motion of ChristenUnie to exempt students who have practicals and labs in the evening from the curfew restrictions. An extra exempt group would undermine the effectiveness of the curfew, Minister of Justice Grapperhaus asserted. And practicals and labs can easily be re-scheduled, he believed.

Now the ball is in Minister Van Engelshoven's court. Last week she seemed to be receptive to compensation for students who were experiencing delays due to the coronavirus crisis, although she emphasised the fact that not all students will necessarily need a whole extra year.

Administrative headaches

At the same time, she can't simply put aside a unanimous decision of the House of Representatives. She's already working with her Co-Minister of Education Arie Slob on a national programme to help those pupils and students who are falling behind. This motion could be included in their proposals.

On the other hand, there is also the problem of the practicalities of implementation. How do you decide exactly who is experiencing a study delay? And how do you as a student prove that you have fallen behind because of the coronavirus crisis? It could cause a lot of administrative headaches.

Is an across the board measure the answer? Minister Van Engelshoven chose this option before by refunding all graduating year students in higher education three months' of tuition fees.

This would make the student associations very happy: they want the government to give all students an extra year of study as compensation, regardless of their status. But the bill for doing away with tuition fees for hundreds of thousands of students would be exorbitant. That's money that the Minister would have to take from something else.

Very concerned

Briefly put, nothing has yet been carved in stone, and the election recess starts in a few days. The Ministers of Education have promised that they will share the contours of their national programme with Parliament at the end of February.

Incidentally, the House of Representatives was very concerned about young people today. A motion put forward by PvdA party leader Ploumen regarding a “delta plan” for youth also passed unanimously.

HOP, Evelien Flink

Translation: Taalcentrum-VU