Psychological pressure on first-year students: minister takes action

Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven is to introduce a limit to the amount of 'points' universities and colleges can demand first year students to earn in order to proceed to the second year of their course. Students can collect up to 60 points in their first year and some universities require them to have the maximum points possible in order to pass. But Van Engelshoven told broadcaster NOS she considers the pressure being placed on students to be 'too high'. 'We have to prevent students from tripping up unnecessarily,' she said. She wants universities to introduce a ceiling of 40 points for first years, saying that some are using the score cards as a way of weeding out slow students. 'I do not want this to happen and so I am going to intervene,' she told NOS. The law will be changed in 2020, but the minister said she hoped universities would act now. Various reports have shown that the pressure on students has intensified since student grants were placed by loans and that first years have been required to pass a certain number of courses to move up to the next year. 'Some students need time to adjust to their new lives and they should be given than chance,' the minister said. Reactions Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of the university umbrella group VSNU said the minister's decision is 'not sensible'. 'A political decision was taken to increase the ambition and success of students in higher education,' he said. 'You can see that students are doing better. To turn that back now would not be sensible.'  More >

'Burka ban' delayed to start of August

The ban on facial coverings in public spaces has been delayed by a month and will now take effect on August 1, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren has said. The so-called 'burka ban' will apply in schools, universities, government buildings and on public transport. Anyone who covers their face could be asked to remove the garment and given a €400 fine. Ollongren said the extension on implementing the law was a response to comments from schools who said it would be difficult to change their procedures during a school year. The ban will now take effect in schools after the summer holidays. The Senate passed the law last July following more than a decade of political wrangling and a sustained campaign by right-wing parties such as the PVV to curtail Islamic cultural influences. A ban was included in the coalition agreement in 2010 as part of the deal which saw Geert Wilders's party support the minority VVD-CDA coalition. However, the government collapsed in May 2012 when Wilders walked out before the measure could become law. The Council of State has been critical of the plan, saying the 'need and usefulness' has not been proven and warning that it risks infringing on the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsema also stirred controversy last November when she said enforcing the ban was 'not a priority' in the city. She later qualified her statement by saying the city would abide by the law.  More >

More cash invested in boosting literacy

Ministers have set aside €425m over the coming five years to boost literacy, numeracy and computer skills among people who have difficulty functioning in society. In total, the money will be used to target 2.5 million adults and children 'with and without an immigrant background', the education ministry said on Monday. 'Language, arithmetic and digital skills are essential to be able to contribute to society,' education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said in a statement. 'A lack of skills is a barrier to independence in our society, both online and offline. So we are investing heavily in helping people improve their basic skills.' The money will be spent on adult education classes and special subsidies for employers who sign a ‘language agreement’ pledging to work to combat illiteracy. By 2024, at least 1,000 companies should have signed up for the agreement, and the target is to provide help to 30,000 people via the corporate scheme. Money will also go on helping people learn to use computers and smartphones.  More >

Iranian students face further checks in NL

The Netherlands is to increase its monitoring of Iranian students and researchers at Dutch universities to make sure they cannot acquire specialist knowledge which can be used to develop ballistic missiles in Iran. The cabinet is making the move following concerns that Iran is developing ballistic missile technology and a 'recent case', foreign minister Stef Blok said in a briefing to parliament. Sources told broadcaster NOS the recent case refers to a student at Delft University of Technology who was able to learn about building and launching rockets. In 2012, the Dutch courts ruled it is illegal to discriminate against Iranian students by requiring a special permit for some studies but now there are more legal options to intervene, ministers say. Students and researchers are currently screened for links to North Korea but that will now be expanded to other countries, starting with Iran. Other countries may be introduced later if necessary. Students who do not pass the screening will not be allowed to study in the Netherlands. Delft University said in a reaction that it understood the sensitivity of the issue and pointed out that students and researchers from countries considered 'risky' already need special permission for subjects such as rocket technology.  More >