The Parliament will only define that after September 4

Dutch cabinet collapsed: which plans will be put on hold?

Rutte val screenshot NOS
The Prime Minister Mark Rutte debating in Parliament about the cabinet's fall

The Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, had all kinds of plans in the pipeline but the government’s demise could throw a spanner in the works for some or all of them. Universities and students have been arguing that some topics simply cannot wait. 

Binding study advice (BSA)
One of Dijkgraaf’s plans was to ease the pressure on students by relaxing the conditions for moving on to the second year of a Bachelor's programme. He proposed to demand 30 credits from students in the first year and another 30 credits the following year, instead of 60 in the first year.

Universities are hoping that the House of Representatives will declare this plan to be too controversial to be dealt with by a caretaker government because if this happens, the bill will not be voted on by the House. Instead, it will be shelved until the next national election. “We consider it a bad idea anyway”, says Ruben Puylaert, a spokesperson for the association of Dutch universities, Universities of the Netherlands (UNL).

Meanwhile, the National Student Association (ISO) is fervently hoping that it will go ahead. “This would really help reduce the pressure to perform that students are under,” declares ISO President Demi Janssen. She adds that there would be financial benefits to the relaxation because students would save money by not having to lose an academic year over strict BSA conditions. This view is shared by the Dutch Student Union, as confirmed by its president, Elisa Weehuizen. “These plans are definitely a step in the right direction but now there’s a chance they may be taken off the table, which would be a major blow.”

VVD, the main party in the coalition, is critical of the idea, so no one knew if Dijkgraaf would even manage to have his proposal pass through the House unscathed. Now, it is likely that this topic will be deemed too "controversial" and shelved for the time being.

For years, Dutch universities have been asking for more tools to control the influx of foreign students, like restricting the number of spots for English-taught tracks or having an emergency brake mechanism to keep a given programme from receiving too many students from outside the European Union.

Puylaert, from UNL, explains: “The earliest these tools could be introduced is the academic year 2025-26. We hope that the House of Representatives will want to get this sorted out. Otherwise, it will be delayed for another year.”

Students would also like the House to keep the issue on the agenda. “Lecture halls are overcrowded, the workload is high... We need to be able to manage the influx better,” says the ISO President. “Once that’s sorted, we will be able to start looking at the needs of specific institutions and regions.” The Dutch Student Union agrees.  “We hope this issue will not be deemed controversial,” adds Weehuizen. “Municipalities and institutions are running out of resources. The conversation about internationalisation is difficult enough as it is, so we shouldn’t put it off any longer.”

Current plans regarding internationalisation include rules on the language of instruction and a more centralised approach to the influx of students. Universities are not very enthusiastic about Dijkgraaf's proposals, so they would be happy to see them set aside for the time being.

The Dutch Student Union prefers not to engage in cherry-picking when it comes to the debate on the internationalisation of Dutch higher education. Weehuizen: “We see the point of the minister’s policy on language but we are critical about other aspects such as the emergency brake for non-European students. We don’t believe that’s a distinction you can make.” Mostly, the union believes that the discussion needs to continue.

Student and staff participation
ISO lists a range of other issues that need to be kept on the table as far as students are concerned, including the improvement of opportunities for participation. Janssen: “There are four motions on the table, including some regarding guidelines for facilities and the compensation of council members. We hope that they will be implemented.” Lucky for them, there is still a chance these motions may pass. Almost the entire House of Representatives supports the introduction of guidelines and this is not a measure that requires a legislative amendment.

Flexible learning
Another priority for ISO is for the ministry to continue working on a bill regarding the possibility of studying at one's own pace, paying per credit. The scheme is best known as flexible learning. The Parliament also made a recent appeal for these plans to proceed. “Flexible learning can be advantageous for certain groups of students, such as those with caring duties or who are entrepreneurs”, Janssen explains. Even so, the plan could still be declared controversial or the minister himself may decide to slow things down. Dijkgraaf wanted flexible learning to be seen as part of a wide-ranging "foresight study", so it is not yet clear whether he intends to respond in full to the findings presented by the research agencies involved.

Social safety
Dijkgraaf also announced stricter laws and regulations to ensure students and employees feel safe at higher education institutions. For example, he was looking to oblige universities' boards to report any suspicion of sexual violence committed by a staff member against a student. At present, this only applies if the student is a minor. If the bill is to go ahead, educational institutions would no longer be able to insist on confidentiality when settling a case with victims. ISO hopes that the House of Representatives will not put an obstacle in the bill's way, giving the outgoing minister the opportunity to put these measures in place. “Students need to feel supported”, Janssen insists.

The House of Representatives will not decide which topics are controversial until all members come back from recess on September 4. This means that the parties still have time to consider their positions on these issues and that lobbyists have almost two months to promote their interests. In the first week after the recess, the various committees in the house will address the matter, ahead of an official vote in the week of September 12.