Dutch Senate reluctantly supports the halving of college tuition fees

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Opposition parties PVV and GroenLinks immediately announced they would support the measure when the debate was opened. The coalition parties will do this as well, ensuring that the bill will receive a wide majority.

As of September, the college tuition fees for students in the first year of their degree programmes will be lowered by at least one thousand euros. Students of the teacher training institute will also receive the discount in their second year.

Argumentation bill 'sub-par'
The senators do have fierce criticism on Minister Van Engelshoven's argumentation for the bill to make higher education more accessible. She can explain this on Tuesday afternoon, even though she does not have to fear that her bill is not going to make it.

The most prominent criticism on the bill is that all students will receive the discount on their tuition fees, even if they have enough money to pay the usual rate and were going to enrol anyway. The money (173 million euros) could also be used to raise the supplemental scholarship. That would support only students who have less money to burn, the SP reasoned.

Senator Ruard Ganzevoort stated that GroenLinks prefers to put the minister's written explanation at the bottom of a drawer. “We can make it very cosy, but let's be honest: the argumentation for this bill is no good.” He had already called the minister's answers sub-par before.

'Out of your own pocket'
The VVD was critical as well, but “didn't rule out” the possibility that the bill would still have the desired effect, which is that higher education becomes more accessible and that students are less guided by financial considerations when choosing a degree programme.

The CDA “had and still has some questions about this bill, including it's urgency,” but is not going to gum the works either.

Student organisations ISO and LSVb consider the halving of tuition fees to be paid out of their own pockets: the interest on tuition debt will be raised after all, causing students who borrow much money to eventually pay the price for this halving.

*Update* 11 July 2018:

Yesterday evening, the Senate unanimously voted in favour of halving the college tuition fees for first-year students. This means the reduction will definitely go ahead and the first group of students can already profit from it in September.

The minister gave the senators a full explanation on Tuesday afternoon. Among other things, she promised that the measure would be evaluated after three years.

The senators filed four motions. GroenLinks-Senator Ganzevoort took his criticism the furthest: he requested that for future bills, the government should strive for a research-based foundation and a clear majority of the senators agreed.

VVD-Senator Bruijn wants more guarantees that universities and universities of applied sciences will not be victims of the measure. They may be compensated for the reduction of tuition fees, but they also make additional costs. Bruijn wants the minister to pay close attention during the evaluation to see whether or not institutions will have financial setbacks. Van Engelshoven assumes that institutions will sound the alarm if that happens, but Bruijns thinks that is too noncommittal. A majority of the senators agrees.

A motion by the PvdA to abandon the scheduled increase of tuition-debt interests was rejected, as was a motion by the PVV that requested a numerus clausus for foreign students.


Who will be eligible for the halving of the tuition fees over the academic year 2018-2019 and who will not?

The ministry had already listed the exact demographics the halving will apply to. The general rule is simple: if you are registered for an associate degree or Bachelor’s programme of a government-funded Dutch university of applied sciences or university as of September 2018, you will pay half the legal tuition fees over the first year. The discount will be in effect for twelve months, even if you switch degree programmes during your first year.

The tuition fees for the academic year 2018-2019 will be 2,060 euros, so the majority of first-year students will be paying 1,030 euros. Foreign students from the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Suriname who study in the Netherlands are also eligible for the discount, as are status holders.

If you are enrolled in a degree programme that can charge higher tuition fees – such as a hotel school or a university college – you will pay half of that higher fee, resulting in a bigger discount. The halving also applies to first-year students of part-time or dual degree programmes, which often have lower tuition fees.

New Bachelor's students of the pabo and the second-degree teaching programmes also receive the halving in their second (Bachelor's) year. Those who are enrolled in a university-level teaching programme will receive this additional discount as of 2021-2022 in the first year of the teacher-training Master's programme.

Students who were already registered with a Dutch university or university of applied sciences before the academic year 2018-2019 cannot apply, even if they have not attended a single class. Those who have to pay the sometimes towering institutional tuition fees – such as those who come from outside Europe or are enrolled in a ‘second programme’ – are out of luck too.

The halving will also not apply to students enrolled in non-subsidised education, as well as to students who participate in the experiment for demand-based funding during their degree programmes.

Translation: Wouter Beentjes