Dutch elections: how the different parties voted educational proposals

After the elections, the political parties can spend months negotiating a coalition agreement to form a cabinet. Once the coalition is in place, participating parties can no longer deviate from it with good decency, even if they wanted to.

Student financing is a good example of how the system works. Parties VVD and PvdA were able to abolish the basic student grant in 2015, thanks to the support of opposition parties D66 and GroenLinks. Two years later, VVD and D66 entered a coalition with parties CDA and ChristenUnie, who ardently advocated the return of the basic grant. Everyone compromised: the basic grant was not reinstated, but first-year students received a fifty percent discount in their tuition fees. 

The opposition parties are well aware of this reality. Few motions to reintroduce the basic grant have been filed in recent years, because MPs know they had no chance to be adopted anyway. Nobody wanted to waste time on that.

But what about all the other issues? The governing parties didn't always vote as a single block.

1. International students
What is the language policy, and how many international students should the Netherlands attract? 

More and more courses are taught in English at Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences (especially at the former), which means that more and more foreign students are coming to the Netherlands. Not all political parties are happy with that. Some of them oppose the anglicisation of higher education, as they believe that students learn more if they are taught in their mother tongue. Others are particularly suspicious of the arrival of so many foreign students: should the country actively be recruiting them?

Language policy
Legally speaking, each university or university of applied sciences must have its own "code of conduct" for foreign-language education, establishing when courses should be taught in foreign languages and when they shouldn't. In practice, however, not all institutions have it. Parties CDA and SGP therefore submitted a motion in June 2019 proposing that the Education Inspectorate would enforce the adoption of such a code of conduct.

Parties in favour: CDA, ChristenUnie, PVV, GroenLinks, PvdD, SGP, FvD.
Parties against: VVD, D66, SP, PvdA, 50Plus.
Result: Rejected.

The House of Representatives considered the possibility that too many foreign students will come to the Netherlands in the future. Since Dutch higher education institutions can only welcome a limited amount of students, the SP party submitted a motion in 2019 proposing to limit the active recruitment of students abroad.

Parties in favour: ChristenUnie, all opposition parties.
Parties against: VVD, CDA en D66.
Result: adopted.

2. The "screwed" generation 
Should all of them get a discount? 

As mentioned earlier, the basic student grant was abolished in 2015, and a loan system was introduced in its place. At the time, the Minister of Education promised that the millions freed up by the grant's abolishment would be invested in improving the quality of higher education. However, the first students who had to borrow money would be a sort of "screwed generation" -- after all, they wouldn't see the benefits of the investments yet to be made. Some parties proposed to grant those students a discount in their tuition fees. To learn more about this, check out our series of articles in collaboration with Folia.

In favour of a discount: CDA, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP.
Voted against: VVD, PVV.
Result: adopted.

Help all students
"Screwed generation" students receive a voucher of around 2,000 euros to spend on additional education, five to ten years after graduation. Many parties find this stipend simply "ridiculous". After all, five to ten years after graduation, you have only just started your career. You may have young children. This is not the time most people are looking for additional courses or degrees at all. Instead, they propose to give those students a discount on their student debt. The suggestion came from parties  CDA, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks and SP in June 2020. 


Voted in favour: CDA, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP.
Voted against: VVD, PVV.
Result: adopted.

Help some students
Before receiving the proceeds from the new loan system, universities and universities of applied sciences dug deep into their pockets to improve their education upfront. At least that was the deal, but many institutions have little to show regarding these "pre-investments", according to an investigation by the Dutch Court of Audit.

Several parties think that is not fair for the "screwed generation". Therefore, they deserve a plan to compensate them, said parties CDA, PvdA and GroenLinks to the cabinet in 2018.

Parties in favour: CDA, PvdA, GroenLinks, PVV, SP, ChristenUnie, PvdD, Denk.
Parties against: VVD, D66, 50Plus, SGP, FvD.
Result: adopted. 

3. Quality
Run a tight ship or hire enough teachers?

How do you ensure that programmes continue to offer the best for their students? Some say "run a tight ship and make tough agreements". Others believe that the government should simply give teachers (and administrators) the space to provide good education as they see fit. They will solve any problems they may have themselves.

With the advent of the new loan system, this difference of opinion is even more apparent. Without a basic grant, studying has become much more expensive for Dutch and EEA students, but the idea behind the abolishment of the grant was that students would receive better education in return. Institutions therefore had to make special "quality plans" to get the millions freed up by the new policy.

But making those plans did not go so well: many institutions initially did not pass the screening made by education inspector NVAO. Then came the coronavirus crisis and the institutions had other priorities. The minister gave them a one-year delay, which means that higher education institutions received extra funding with or without good plans.

In any case, there is the threat that universities and universities of applied sciences will have to pay back the extra money they got if their 'quality plans' are not approved, parties VVD and GroenLinks told the Minister of Education in June 2020. Opponents found that idea simply bizarre: how can you, with this unprecedented work pressure, make such demands on well-meaning institutions?

Parties in favour: VVD, GroenLinks, PVV, FvD.
Parties against: CDA, ChristenUnie and the rest.
Result: adopted.

Student-teacher ratio
Some parties say one may not have to strictly control the quality, as long as the programs have enough teachers. But how many teachers are enough? This question related to the topic of financing higher education, which is being analysed by a special committee.

SGP filed a motion asking for just that in January 2020, saying that research on funding for higher education should also provide "reasonable standards" for the number of students per teacher. Otherwise one can never determine how much money is enough.

Voted in favour: SGP and basically all parties.
Voted against: CDA, D66, 50Plus.
Result: rejected.

4. Selection
Get rid of the binding study advice, or have more instruments to select students?
Should study programmes be able to refuse students, or send them away after a year because their performance is not good enough? Should they be allowed to do that even after a year? Few topics cause such heated debates as selection in higher education. While one party sees selection as a devilish instrument that preserves inequality, the other wants to select at the port in order to increase the quality of education and encourage students to do their best. Two interesting motions about this topic were submitted in the autumn.

Abolish the binding study advice
Should institutions be allowed to dismiss first-year students if they have not obtained enough credits at the end of the year, or is that having too little compassion for young people who find the transition to higher education a little difficult? Can young people themselves assess whether they will manage to get their diploma, or should the programme send them away?

GroenLinks seemed to have achieved a victory about this subject in October 2020. Most expelled first-year students simply follow the same course elsewhere, only with a bit of delay, which is noting but annoying for them, not to mention it's a waste of money, according to the party, which proposes that the minister should enter into discussions with institutions to change the binding advice into a non-binding advice. In other words: get rid of the BSA.

Voted in favour: GroenLinks en de andere partijen.
Voted against: VVD, PVV, CDA en SGP.
Result: adopted

More selection
The VVD did not give in and came up with a list in November 2020. Everyone wants students to successfully complete their education, they say, and the BSA is just one of the tools to achieve this purpose. In other words: long live selection.

Voted for selection: VVD, PVV, CDA, ChristenUnie, 50Plus, Denk, SGP.
Voted against: D66, GroenLinks, SP, PvdA, PvdD.
Absent: FvD.
Result: adopted

5. Alfa, bèta, gamma
Innovation? Don't forget the humanities

If money is scarce, then how should the government distribute it? The current cabinet decided to shift a great deal of the budget to science and technology, at the expense of other disciplines. The four coalition parties voted as a single bloc, even when the entire opposition tried to moderate the intervention.

But some parties had a crisis of conscienc: what about small, vulnerable programmes such as Dutch language and theology? Parties ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP and CDA said in June 2018 that the minister of Education should pay special attention to this issue. 

Parties in favour: ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, SP, CDA en de rest.
Parties against: VVD, D66, PVV.
Result: adopted. 

6. Coronavirus
Away with arrears, away with BSA?

Some students are getting through the pandemic more easily than others. Having a room of their own, enough money, and a good internet connection are just three things that make a huge difference. 

Backlogs gone
The inequality of opportunities for students is increasing because of the pandemic. The government must make a plan to reverse the arrears and inequality, according to a motion by D66 and CDA. In January, no one appeared to object to that.

Voted in favour: all parties.
Voted against: no parties.
Result: adopted.

BSA in times of Covid
Two months ago, the House spoke about the coronavirus and the binding study advice. In this extraordinary academic year, universities should not apply the BSA in full, argued the parties D66 and GroenLinks, if only because some students have a harder time than others. Universities, just like universities of applied sciences, should make the BSA more flex. Several universities would indeed take that decision later, but politicians did not know that yet. The House of Representatives was divided on this.

Parties in favour: D66, GroenLinks and the rest.
Parties against it: VVD, CDA, SGP.
Result: adopted.

7. Diversity
A diverse set of people bringing new perspectives
Free science provides a different form of diversity: all kinds of schools of thought must be able to find a place at the university. But controversial speakers are not always given the opportunity to express their views at the university. Universities and knowledge institutes must "prevent and reduce self-censorship" and be careful that the diversity of perspectives in science is not compromised, say VVD and CDA.

To the top
Higher education should reflect society better, according to PvdA, D66 and GroenLinks. That means that more women and people with a migrant background should occupy the top functions of both universities and universities of applied sciences. Although the word "quota" is not in the motion, but the cabinet should make "proposals" to increase diversity.

Voted in favour: PvdA, D66, GroenLinks, SP, 50Plus, PvdD, Denk.
Voted against: VVD, CDA, ChristenUnie, PVV.
Result: rejected.

Controversial opinions
Free science provides a different form of diversity: all schools of thought must be able to find a place at the university. But controversial speakers are not always given the opportunity to express their views. Universities and knowledge institutes must therefore "prevent and reduce self-censorship" and be careful not to compromise the diversity of perspectives in science, say parties VVD and CDA.

Voted in favour VVD, CDA, PVV, SP, PvdD, 50Plus, DENK, SGP, FvD.
Voted against: D66, GroenLinks, PvdA, ChristenUnie.
Result: Adopted.

Political parties can have many reasons for voting for or against a motion. Sometimes, ideology is not the only thing playing a role in their ultimate vote -- practicalities are also often taken into account.

By the way, passing a motion isn't always enough to change the course of the government as the cabinet may disregard an adopted motion. For example, the cabinet has not interfered with the recruitment of students abroad, despite the adopted motion. The students of the "screwed generation" also did not receive a discount on their student debt, no matter how much the House of Representatives would like them to. 

But the motions do show which schools of thought are preferred by political parties, certainly in areas that have not been leveled out in advance in a coalition agreement. The voter's preference must be shown on March 17.