Students told to hurry degrees

June 14, 1996

The Netherlands' controversial study finance scheme has come under renewed fire from students and universities.

Their targets are changes to the 1993 legislation that links grants to performance. The government now wants to raise the number of study points students need to get in any one academic year if they are to avoid grants being converted to loans.

It also wants to cut the number of years they have to complete their studies from six years to four.

From September this year, students will have their grants turned into loans if they fail to achieve 50 per cent of 42 study points each year, rising to 70 per cent in 1997 and 1998.

At present a student is required to attain a minimum of ten study points in the first year.

Following the introduction of the performance grant legislation, 5 per cent of the Netherlands' 400,000 higher education students failed to meet the target and face having to repay a total of Fl78 million (Pounds 30 million).

The study finance plan not only links student grants to individual study speed, but is an attempt by the ministry of education to stop an expensive practice which allowed students to delay graduation for as long as they wished.

Dutch students graduate whenever they have accumulated a total of 168 credit points (each point is calculated as one study week of 40 hours).

Baukje van Nunen of the student union, LSV, said: "We are afraid that the government is coming closer to creating an elitist higher education system. People from lower social classes will be too afraid to go to university in case they end up burdened with debts.

Predictions based on December's applications for this year's new intake indicate a 10 per cent drop of 14,000.

Statistics like this have prompted the Dutch universities organisation, VSNU, to urge the ministry to rethink its performance-linked grants system.

Hans Ten Brinke, said for the VSNU: "The drop in new intake is of great concern to us. We are sure the grants issue is a major factor. Grants should facilitate, not dictate, the educational process.

"For the past ten years there have been grant cuts every year and policy changes. We need a rest and have asked the ministry of education for a debate."

In preparation, VSNU is setting up a strategy group of professors and chancellors.

"We need to rethink the criteria and look at a new system even though we realise it is realistic to think we will not be getting more money. But it's too early to say what that system will be," Mr Ten Brinke said.

* The government has raised the level of supplementary student grants for the country's 30,000 single parent students from Fl23,000 to Fl30,000.

* Jaques van Velzen, primary education director at the ministry of education, culture and science, has been appointed director of university education. His predecessor is moving to the interior ministry to become director of police.

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