Thursday 20 January 2022

Students urge government to act now on loan system, halt uncertainty

Several hundred students on Thursday took part in a demonstration in The Hague in protest at the current student loan system and calling for speedy reforms.

The march started from the finance ministry, and ended at the offices of coalition parties VVD and D66, with the students urging the next government to introduce debt-free education and to improve standards.

‘We think it’s important that students can study without building up a colossal debt,’ says Ama Boahene (24), chairwoman of the national student union, LSVb. Some 800,000 students in the Netherlands are currently building up loans they will have to pay back, she said.

The LSVb is also concerned about the impact on the student loan system on international students.

‘If international students want to borrow money from the government, they must work a minimum of 56 hours a month, which is a lot for a student,’ says Boahene.  ‘These students have also been hard hit, especially during the lockdown because they cannot work the required hours anymore.’

Mental health

In particular, students are worried about the impact of building up debt on their mental well being.

‘Every year of study is a year of borrowing from the government. I am accumulating debt and I feel a lot of pressure thinking about my education in terms of money,’ says Kayliegh Hofstede (21), chairwoman of the AKKU student association from the Radboud University in Nijmegen.

‘I am scared to look at it, but I owe a total of €26,000 so far,’ said Hofstede, who who still has to finish her degree.

Second year UvA medical student Luc (21) said he feels stressed when thinking about the bills he has to pay. ‘That’s why I think it’s important to put political pressure on our government, but it’s very frustrating because nobody seems to be listening or doing anything about it.’

Total debt

National statistics agency CBS said last month that Dutch students owed a combined €24.4bn at the start of this year, as more students started a university and college course.

The total amount of student debt rose 7% compared with 2020 and has doubled since 2015 when grants were scrapped for all but the very poorest students.

The four parties in talks on forming the next government have all said that the current student debt system will be reformed, and students want the government to bring in changes as soon as possible.

‘Every day without a new government is costing students money,’ said Pieter van Rossum (25), deputy chairman of the student union at the Amsterdam’s VU University. ‘Every day without a new government means the student loan system is being prolonged.’

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