‘Lost generation demands compensation!’

Photo: courtesy of HOP

It’s a sunny day at Museum Square. The National Student Union and FNV Young & United set the mood with speeches, while the crowd in front of the stage grows.

The message is loud and clear. The one billion euros earmarked by the Dutch cabinet to distribute to the students who have missed out on the basic student grant (a benefit scrapped in 2015, to be reintroduced next year) are not enough. That means each student would get approximately 1,000 euros, while the average student not living with their parents are missing out on 14,000 euros worth of grant.

No study voucher
One of the people in front of the stage is Lianne Stuurenbroek, a Master’s student at Utrecht University who does not want those 1,000 euros to be given in the form of a discount voucher to pursue another degree five to ten years after graduating. “A second Master’s degree costs about 10,000 euros a year. A 1,000-euro voucher, therefore, only covers a tenth of the expenses, not to mention that, in that phase of your life, you simply have no time for an additional degree. You have to work hard to pay the rent or the mortgage, so such a voucher would not do anything for us”.

Her friend, who comes from Rotterdam, is afraid that this generation of students is going to have a much harder time buying their first home. “They have considerably more debt than the previous and subsequent generations, which means they will have less money of their own”. Asked what fair compensation would be, he answers: “Personally, I would be satisfied with 10,000 euros”.

Not fair
Not so far away from them, we spot a group waving the flags of CDJA, the young branch of political party CDA. Chair Tom Scheepstra says that they are “glad that the basic student grant is making a comeback, but the compensation for the lost generation is much too meagre. That’s just not fair. If the government makes a mistake, then they have to fix it”. How much money do they consider fair? “Between five and ten thousand euros, so a lot more than what the cabinet has earmarked”.

The ugly truth
But the chances that their party is going to accept their proposal are slim. “Fully compensating them is simply impossible”, says CDA member René Peters, one of the eight politicians interviewed onstage. “That would cost the government several billion and unfortunately we have other things to do with regards to sustainability, housing, and defence. That’s the ugly truth”.

Students can’t expect leading party VVD, which actually wanted to keep the loan system, to increase the compensation, either. As for party ChristenUnie, they are glad enough to have gotten the comeback of the basic grant and the one-billion compensation in the coalition negotiations.

Fucking bullshit, reacts the Socialist Party. “If the coalition parties would ask the super-rich to pay a normal amount of taxes, there would be more than enough money to do it”. Other parties, such as PvdA (“They always manage to screw an entire generation”), Volt, GroenLinks and Partij Voor de Dieren, agree that the lost generation deserves fair compensation.

D66 was the only party that’s part of the cabinet to not have appeared on stage, but the Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, who is affiliated with that party, sent a message to the protesters through Twitter. He said he “totally understands” the students’ frustration, but the cabinet does not have any more money to give them. This week, he intends to hold an “open conversation” with the protest’s organisers.

“Just talking is not going to solve the problem”, reacted the chair of the National Student Union, Ama Boahene. “If you really understand our worries, then fight for fair compensation to the student loan generation”.

Ball and chain
At about 2:00 pm, the protesters march from Museum Square to the city centre. At the back, we spot Frans Vaessen, who’s carrying a ball and chain around his neck, representing the heavy student debt. He travelled all the way from Limburg to Amsterdam in solidarity with his daughter and other young people who got no basic student grant and were forced to contract considerable debt. “You cannot compare their debt to the debt held by my generation”.