Dutch Parliament decides:

BSA plans are too controversial but plans on English-taught programmes are not

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The government has fallen and there will be new elections on November 22. The parties in the House of Representatives are jointly determining which topics they wish to handle by then and which ones they don’t. The formal vote took place in the House of Representatives yesterday.

What constitutes a controversial topic?
It is a topic deemed "contentious". In other words, a topic that sparks strong differences of opinion. To make this distinction, political parties keep a close eye on opinion polls. How will the cards be stacked later on? Will there be more support for their vision – or quite the opposite?

The plans for a more flexible BSA were labelled as controversial.
Yes, and that was to be expected as opinions are strongly divided in the House of Representatives. The Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, has submitted plans regarding the BSA, but parties do not want to discuss them until the elections are over.

What was his BSA proposal?
Earlier attempts to simply lower the BSA threshold fell apart upon encountering resistance in the House of Representatives. Dijkgraaf’s alternative was to fulfil two requirements – lower the pressure on students and maintain the pace of learning. His proposal was that the threshold should be reduced to a maximum of 30 points in the first year, but that the same 30-point threshold should also apply in the second year.

What do students think of his proposal?
The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) and the Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO) believe it to be a good proposal. They urged the House of Representatives to still deal with the topic, even though the education committee decided otherwise last Wednesday. The students believe that the pressure to perform is now too high on students and that their mental health is under threat. They view the proposal as a step in the right direction. However, there are a few student councils that have a different opinion.

What about educational institutions?
The universities of applied sciences confirmed that they can live with this outcome, but research universities are opposing it. They think it is a bad plan and fear that weaker students may take longer over their studies.

What is the view of the political parties?
The Dutch Green Party, GroenLinks, and the social liberal party D66 would prefer to abolish the BSA. Other parties, such as the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), are opposed to any lowering of the threshold. There are other parties, such as the Socialist Party (SP) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which have questions and reservations about the proposal. In other words, everything is far from cut and dried, and the outcome of the debates remains uncertain.

Internationalisation is an even more sensitive political topic. Why has this not been declared controversial?
It was not even on the list of topics that the House of Representatives could declare to be controversial or not. The reason given is that the topic has been discussed extensively already, so it is no longer on the agenda before the elections. Therefore, it doesn’t need to be declared controversial.

This encompasses English-taught programmes, the intake of international students, and the central coordination aspects surrounding this issue.
All very interesting and perhaps the topic will come up occasionally in a debate, but for the moment there isn’t anything that could be declared controversial.

But hasn’t a legislative proposal been put online for consultation?
Yes, everyone can submit their comments on it. The ministry can adapt the proposal based on these suggestions before it is submitted to the political process. But that is not a matter for the House of Representatives.

So can the outgoing cabinet just submit the proposed legislation?
That may be possible. The House of Representatives can decide to only discuss it after the elections or to handle it immediately, but the latter seems unrealistic.

Are there any other topics that will only be addressed after the elections?
Absolutely. The experiment with flexible learning, for example. With some study programmes, it was possible to study at your own pace and only pay tuition fees for the courses you are actually attending. That may well be a good thing for top athletes, entrepreneurs, caregivers, students with a disability, etc. But it will only come up after the elections and need not be declared controversial.

What about the Foresight Study?
That is a similar kind of topic. Minister Dijkgraaf has sent his long-awaited Foresight Study to the House of Representatives and, in the cover letter, he refers to all kinds of issues that politics must consider for the education of the future. But he is leaving it to his successor to really do something with it, so it’s not actually relevant whether it is controversial or not.