How ‘social’ is the student loan system? What the papers say

Student union LSVB’s elation at the abolition of the fine for slow students has quickly turned to anger at its likely alternative: the so-called ‘social student loan system’. The student takes out a loan and will start paying back, according to his means, once he has a job. The LSVB fears students could run up debts as high as €30,000. What the papers say.

 ‘There is nothing social about this measure,’ union chairperson Karlijn Ligtenberg fumed on NOS television when the VVD and PvdA plan was announced for 2014. ‘People will be left with enormous debts and some won’t be able to afford a university education. It’s a stab in the back of the knowledge economy.’

Class struggle

In its editorial NRC shakes its head at the union’s rhetoric: ‘how a student union is pushing for a class struggle’. The students have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, the paper says. Universities have become much more accessible over the years, it argues, and all the social loan system is doing is simply acknowledging that a person with a university education has better perspectives.

On the other hand, NRC concedes ‘the new system will force students to finish their studies sooner rather than later and that could come at a price: being a student is not only about studying but also about finding one’s place in society.’ But students can’t expect society to cough up while they are searching, the paper concludes.

The Volkskrant asked a number of experts whether or not the student union is right. Nibud budget spokesperson Annemarie Koops says much will depend on the details of the plan: ‘How much is the interest on the loan? How long do people have to pay it off? Will it be 15 or 30 years? We can’t tell what the longer-term consequences are until we know.’


Hugo Priemus, professor of System Innovation Spatial Development, looks to the future from the housing point of view. ‘If you have a big group entering the housing market laden with debt, you will have to take a good look at the housing on offer. People in debt will have problems getting a mortgage and the crisis is already causing a shift from buying a house to renting one. If the new system goes ahead, more rental homes must become available.’

Economist Dinand Webbink is quoted as saying the fear that the new system will exclude students is ‘exaggerated’. ‘We know from earlier experience that a hike in cost hardly influences the number of students. When Australia introduced a social student loan system student numbers stayed the same. The Dutch system has seen changes and has become more costly since the nineties. It hasn’t had any consequences for student participation.’


‘The worry is this will not be good for students with parents on low incomes,’ says Webbink. “That is what the present grants are for. But a social loan system will enable everyone to study. A university graduate will earn 40 to 45% more than people who stop at VWO level. (..) The fact is that a university degree is something that will bring in lots of money, a fantastic investment in your future.’


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