People who go from one course of study to another accumulate serious debt. It’s not a great way to start your working life, writes Annemarie van Gaal.
I have been busy filming a new series for RTL television of ‘Een dubbeltje op zijn kant’ in which I examine one family’s – often precarious – financial situation. It seems as if things are getting worse, especially for families with young children. It’s not unusual to find young families struggling with debts amounting to tens of thousands of euros.
It’s quite a shock to see how difficult it is for an average Dutch family to manage. We have created a complicated society, a bureaucracy choc-a-bloc with options and rules. So-called explanations are couched in incomprehensible civil servant speak. Once you have a problem things only get worse: letters arrive from debt collection agencies, bailiffs, the council and the energy company, all full of baffling jargon.
Last week I went to see a couple in their twenties, both unemployed. They have one child and another on the way. A large part of their debt consisted of student debt. The man had tried four different courses of study and was contemplating a fifth. His wife had temporarily stopped what was her third consecutive attempt. Together their student debt came to €60,000. If the woman does not finish her studies this time around this will add an additional debt of €20,000.
With a debt of this magnitude and no job to fall back on I would normally advise them to apply for debt restructuring. But this doesn’t include student debt, which remains for seventeen years after finishing the course or dropping out. The interest on student loans is not huge but a debt is a debt. How can you build a future with this millstone around your neck? In this case it hasn’t even led to anything useful.
I’m afraid they’re not alone. I predict a big problem if we don’t do anything to stop this. Of course, people are free to choose but the freedom to go from one course to another leads to ‘serial students’ with huge debts and a bad start to a working life. It would be better to limit the number of courses for which student finance is available to two. If a person fails to bring either to a successful end, student finance for a third course shouldn’t automatically be given.
I know, I’m telling others what to do and I don’t like it one bit. But to have young people start their careers weighed down by debts they can’t pay is much worse.
Annemarie van Gaal is head of AM Media and a writer and broadcaster.
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