'Make students pay more'
The ministry has come up with a number of far-reaching reform measures in the recently published ‘reorientation list’: a confidential document containing potential savings which political parties can use for inspiration when they are preparing their election programmes.
Considerable cuts can be made to higher education costs, according to the ministry’s calculations. For example: raising tuition fees by 2,000 euros in ten years’ time would lead to one million euros in savings. This measure can be put into place in 2017, and in doing so, the ministry suspects that students will make more of an effort to graduate on time.
‘Considering the possibility of raising tuition fees comes from the fact that higher education mainly serves the self-interest of the student’, the report says. ‘More of a personal contribution leads to greater involvement, which in turn means greater incentive for high quality of education and accessibility to higher education is guaranteed by the loans system.’
Study delay fine
They are also thinking about ending government funding for master’s degrees. In other words: students would have to pay for a degree in its entirety, which would result in a 1,000 euro increase in tuition fees in seven years’ time. This would save the government 503 million euros, but is likely to have a negative effect. ‘It is possible that fewer students would pursue a master’s degree, or they would choose to study abroad where it is cheaper.’
Another possibility is to implement a study delay fine after all, which would be an additional 3,000 euros on top of the required tuition fees if students take more than one additional year to complete their studies. The ministry is also thinking about abolishing the student travel card (OV year card) – which would save 830 million euros – or cutting the costs by making it a route-specific card or giving students travel credit.
‘At this moment in time, around one-third of the kilometres that students travel using their OV card are on non-study related trips, and ten per cent of travel is indirectly related to their studies. The benefit of a route-specific travel card is that the government does not subsidise non-study related trips, or at least to a lesser extent’, the ministry writes.
Furthermore, the political parties are being advised to think about increasing the interest rate on student debt. ‘For the student, this means an increase of the amount to be paid back by around eight per cent per month.’ For the government coffers, this would mean 250 million euros in savings.
Cutbacks could also be made on scientific research, the ministry says. This can be done by limiting public financing, which could amount to saving 200 million euros. However, less money for scientific research could put pressure on the execution of the national education agenda, the ministry warns.
Whether or not the political parties will adopt the suggestions remains to be seen. And the outcomes of the elections will also determine whether the suggested measures will actually be put in place.
For this reason, universities are not worried, according to Bastiaan Verweij, spokesperson for the Dutch universities association VSNU. ‘We have read the document with great interest, but we know that the suggestions in the reorientation list say nothing about the political desirability or feasibility of the measures provided. It is an inventory of technical possibilities, and such a list is always made and kept up-to-date by the ministry of finance. What is interesting about it is that this time, it has been made public, so we know what possibilities the ministry of finance sees.’