THE NETHERLANDS: Students protest against grant cuts

Dutch Education Minister Ronald Plasterk has proposed substituting the monthly student grant of EUR266 (US$367) with a loan system. More than 1,000 students protested at the move, occupying lecture halls and university buildings in Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Utrecht and Rotterdam.

While student unions are angry, several political parties support the measure because of the financial crisis. Government institutions in most sectors have to cut their budgets by 20%.

Dutch students over 18 who live with their parents y receive EUR95 each month and those living on their own EUR266 to help pay tuition fees, rent and other expenses up to a maximum of four years. Tuition fees are EUR1,500 a year.

It is estimated the government would save EUR1 billion if the grant system, introduced in 1986, was abolished. There is also a grant system for students from families below a certain minimum income.

In 2007, then Labour Minister Plasterk proposed scrapping grants, arguing they should be replaced by loans as in several other European countries.

Today, only the Socialist Party is objecting to the transfer of grants into loans. Even the Green Party has approved the measure, provided other measures are taken for students who cannot find employment.

Aly Oldersma, Director of Public Affairs at the Association of Universities, stated that more investment in higher education was required. University enrolments were increasing rapidlly yet the higher education budget was not, Oldersma said.

This meant extra investment was needed. The association has called for the conversion of grants into loans but says the saved funds should be re-invested in higher education.

The students' occupation of building and lecture halls has appeared on Facebook and other internet sites. Students made their voice heard at rallies and in releases to the press.