A Symbolic Abolishment?

Ideological thinking seems to have been replaced by strategic thinking in the Dutch political system, which is something that is found in recently proposed policy measures especially. Jet Bussemaker of the left-wing Labour Party recently proposed a policy in which the monthly grant every student currently receives is abolished and students can make use of a social loan system instead.

By abolishing the monthly grant for students, the basisbeurs, Bussemaker would save 800 million euros, according to the NRC of February 19. These 800 million euros would be invested in the education system again, just in a different form. Bussemaker’s focus points are education reforms and providing money for research purposes.

Keeping the basisbeurs and putting more money toward the education system are two ways of investing in education based on different values. I am not saying the transition of the basisbeurs into a loan system is a last vestige, it is rather a minor battle in the transition to a right-wing state. Whereas ideals like free education for everyone used to hold some value to them, proclaiming such a thing now is simply not considered rational. The name of the loan system that would replace the monthly gift is the “Social Loan System.” Having the Labour Party be a part of this must have been strategic: after all, when a proposed policy has social in its name and is on top of that proposed by a party considered social by the Dutch elective it has to be a very social system indeed.

In reality, the social loan system is anything but social. It will create new generations of debtors. These students will be dependent on their parents, their banks, the government and whatever association willing to help out for a longer period of time than they are now.

The main argument for abolishing the monthly grant is that students, rather than the government, should be investing in their future. In a time in which the job market for graduates is quite uncertain, a trend the Netherlands might be taking over from the United States, the prospect of investing in an uncertain future is not too appealing.

Besides, working costs time and young people don’t even get paid enough to pay for rent if they can only work part-time. Working more means that students cannot spend as much time on actually studying as they do now. All this does not even begin to take into account that the basisbeurs is usually not even enough to pay for education. The grant consists of 260 euros a month for people who live on their own. These students usually pay at least 350 euros in rent a month, which is on top of what they pay for their books, tuition, food, clothing, etcetera. This means that many students, even if they have a basisbeurs at the moment, have to take out a loan anyway, or are still dependent on their parents to pay for their expenses.

Abolishing the basisbeurs, however painful it is not to get 260 euros a month to help pay for education, will in all likelihood not lead to a noticeable decrease in students, which is the most heard counterargument for this proposed policy. This is because parents, who in many cases still pay for education, will continue to do so. There is still an additional grant for students whose parents don’t earn enough money to contribute money for their children’s education.

As many students have to take out a loan already, all that is done is extending the life of the student-as-debtor. Implementing the anti-social loan system is in this sense symbolic. By accepting the abolishment of the monthly grant we accept the progression of the abolishment of favoring supposedly more rational strategic thinking over upholding our ideals.


Written for Public Policy Studies, taken at University College Utrecht, in Spring 2013.

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