From exchange programmes to lab animals

European elections: what do Dutch parties want when it comes to education and research?

Stencil on Heidelberglaan. Photo: DUB

The European elections, which will be held on June 6, are about a whole range of crucial topics: economy, defence, climate change, migration, the fight against fake news... Dutch voters who have no idea who to vote for can use one of the many websites offering quizzes to find the party they agree with the most, such as StemwijzerKieskompas and YoungVoice.

When it comes to education and research in Europe, the parties can influence the Erasmus+ exchange programme and the EU budget for research and innovation.

The largest party in the Netherlands doesn’t say anything about education and research in its concise election programme, but the budget for the European Union must come down, in their view. This would almost certainly mean cuts in research, as PVV is not planning on reducing agricultural expenditure. 

It is generally known that PVV wants to limit the intake of foreign students considerably. When it comes to welcoming highly skilled migrants, the party says that “the Netherlands is bursting at its seams,” according to Stemwijzer. The party won't allow them in even if labour shortages worsen. 

Study-related migration
Other parties are also keen on limiting study-related migration and they say this explicitly. NSC, for example, states: “We would limit the number of EU students pursuing a full-time programme at Dutch institutions.” Amongst other things, the party would like to change the rules “so that it’s less easy for EU students to be entitled to student financing in the Netherlands”.

BBB and VVD feel the same way. The number of students arriving from abroad should be equivalent to that of departing students, argues BBB. VVD acknowledges that foreign students “contribute to knowledge and revenues”, but also thinks the intake is “too expressive and unfocused”, criticising the shortages in student housing and packed lecture halls.

Not all parties devote the same amount of attention to this topic in their campaigns, but JA21, CDA, SGP and SP have similar views. ChristenUnie is a bit less strict but does want to take a “critical look” at study-related migration.

Volt has a completely different approach. The pro-European party aspires to a socially united Europe that “celebrates cultural differences and facilitates mobility” across borders. Education should include “democratic thinking, media literacy and critical thinking”.

Left-wing parties GroenLinks-PvdA and D66 also praise the mutual recognition of diplomas and certificates within the EU, so people can study and work in another country easily. D66 emphasises that internationalisation offers many advantages “for students, educational institutions and for the host country”. However, the party feels that some countries within the EU are getting so popular that the pressure on their higher education sector is becoming excessive.  

How about studying in Barcelona or Rome for a while? All parties are fine with that, as exchange is not the same as migration. NSC, for example, writes in its election programme: “It is very good for Dutch students to spend a semester or an academic year in another EU country.”

In other words, Erasmus+ is popular among politicians from left to right. CDA would like to make the exchange programme more accessible to students in intermediate and higher vocational education, while GroenLinks-PvdA proposes to raise the grant “to allow everyone to benefit from this valuable initiative”. D66 even wants researchers and teachers to be able to go on exchanges through Erasmus+ as well. Volt is interested in increasing the programme's budget and VVD is pleased with students making use of the programme to go abroad. 

More money for research
A few parties propose to spend more money on European research, such as GroenLinks-PvdA, which wants to shift part of the agriculture budget to research. Volt even wants to triple the European research programme Horizon. Though a bit more conservative, D66 and NSC also want Europe to spend more money on research. 

Other parties do not say much about the subject. The fight for the EU budget is sometimes summarised as "knowledge or cattle". In other words, should the EU foster a knowledge economy at the expense of agricultural subsidies or not? Incidentally, the Netherlands receives a relatively large sum of money from the EU budget for research.

Wishes for research
Almost all parties have an idea of topics about which more research should be conducted. NSC and JA21, for example, support a European knowledge centre on nuclear energy, while VVD, NSC and BBB would like more money to be spent on innovation in the area of defence. 

CDA mentions health and water quality as research priorities, while Partij voor de Dieren is mostly focused on sustainable energy. The latter is supported by everyone, including Partij voor de Dieren's polar opposite, BBB, which believes that scientists should devote attention to agriculture and food.

As far as D66 is concerned, "open science" is to become the standard in Europe: in their view, the outcomes of publicly funded research must be freely accessible to everyone and not end up behind a paywall. Partij voor de Dieren and GroenLinks-PvdA also explicitly mention open science. That is not to say the rest is against it. VVD, for instance, has been a great advocate of the transition to open science in the Netherlands. 

Lab animals
It goes without saying that lab animals are a priority area for Partij voor de Dieren. “Europe must lead the way in research without animal testing”, the party feels. “Millions of lab animals are still in cages for research. This causes great animal suffering and death.” The party wants this to be over by 2030 at the latest.

SP has similar views. “Through the development of alternative testing methods, using lab animals will become unnecessary over time”. 

GroenLinks-PvdA and VVD also call for research without lab animals. They want to permit animal testing for now, but only if it’s the only way to achieve an improvement in public health. For GroenLinks-PvdA, this is the first step towards a world without animal testing.

There are plenty of European election programmes that don’t feature the subject, although parties do have an opinion on it. D66 and SGP, for example, did mention the topic in the latest Dutch elections.