Senior government advisor questions student loan logic

The Council of State has criticised the government’s decision to scrap student grants, saying there is no certainty the savings will be ploughed back into education as pledged.

On Monday, draft legislation ending the current system of grants was introduced in parliament. Education minister Jet Bussemaker earlier won the support of three opposition parties for the plan by promising the money she saved would be used to improve educational standards.

The council, which is the government’s most senior advisory body, says it had doubts about Bussemaker’s assertion that individuals profit more from higher education than society as a whole. This is one of her key arguments for replacing grants with extra loans from the next academic year.

On November 14, some 14 student and youth organisations will demonstrate against the plans.

Anchored in law

Student unions say the move will add at least €15,000 to the average debt that students have when they graduate. In addition, the promised improvements in education have to be anchored in law, the student bodies say.

At the moment, Dutch students are given a basic grant of €279.14 if they live away from home and €100.25 if home-based. On average, they leave university with around €15,000 in debts. The loans are subject to interest rate rises.

Spending cuts

The new rules state that students whose parents earn less than €46,000 a year or whose parents cannot be traced will still be entitled to a grant.

Students will have 35 years to pay back the loan once they have graduated and do not have to start repaying their debt until they earn at least the minimum wage.

However, the student public transport card, which entitles students to use trams, buses and trains free of charge either at weekends or during the week, will remain.

Vocational training

It will also be extended to cover vocational training students (mbo) who currently have to pay for their own transport costs.

The end of student grants will affect all new bachelor’s and master’s students from 2015.

The deal was reached with the D66 Liberals and the left-wing greens GroenLinks, whose support is necessary to make sure the reforms get through the upper house of parliament.

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