“I can do it,” thought Maaike van der Heyden (22) three years ago, as a second-year physiotherapy student at Fontys Hogescholen in Eindhoven. Living alone, studying and financing it by working a lot in the catering industry in the meantime. But then she cried every exam week on her mother’s couch because she had asked for too much of herself. As much as she feared borrowing, she realized after three years: ‘It must be’. Now she is building up a limited student debt.
Her best friend Daphne Molendijk (26), who graduated in conflict studies last year, tried to convince her: Let that work lie for a while, focus on your studies. She knew herself that she needed a good resume to later find a job, so many internships, projects abroad. Disadvantage: now she is stuck with 35,000 euros in debt, only built up during her master’s years under the social loan system. “I dare not open Duo,” she says.
With VVD as the sole remaining advocate, it appears that the social lending system introduced in 2015 needs to be revised after the election. The Hague is convinced: having to take on debt in order to study is, after all, not desirable. However, in the discussion on the reintroduction of the basic grant or equivalent, an important issue is largely left unaddressed. How is the group that studied under the damned social loan system, the so-called ‘unfortunate generation’, compensated?
When it was introduced in 2015, students were promised two things, recalls Lyle Muns, president of the National Students Union (LSVb). One: the proceeds from the new student loan system will be invested in the quality of higher education. Two: the student’s debt would not affect the subsequent purchase of a house. ‘Both promises have not been fulfilled’, sighs Muns. It was not until 2019 that the government embarked on the announced investments in the quality of higher education, which universities in particular have longed for for years. And in the end, the student loan debt is included in the mortgage rate.
The housing market is already so difficult for first-time buyers. Molendijk lives in a student house, but would like to move now that she works full time. Ideal for buying a home, but the banks are falling over her student debt. ‘My starting job pays well, but I can not buy a garage in a big city yet’, she sighs. “If you do not have rich parents who can afford it, you are unlucky.”
A student loan makes it harder to convert a penny into a quarter, Molendijk notes. Her friends who have wealthy parents are building up a limited student debt, making their already strong position in the housing market even better. And because Molendijk is obliged to rent a house first while her friends can buy, the gap only gets bigger.
The unfortunate generation deserves a fairer refund, says LSVb chairman Muns. He wants the basic grant to be introduced retroactively for these classes of students. Students who have moved into rooms will then receive 286 euros for each month they have studied. Those who continued to live with their parents will be reimbursed EUR 103 per month. This type of compensation will cost three to eight billion, the Ministry of Education has already calculated. Smaller parties in the coming coalition must convince VVD and D66 to deposit such an amount.
The problem is that financial compensation must compensate for choices already made. Students like Molendijk have chosen to make the most of their study time and later experience the consequences. ‘Otherwise you’ve studied for four years, but you have almost no experience in the field … Then it’s not easy to find work in my industry.’
In return, there is a group that does everything it can to avoid the red numbers. For example, by working 35 hours next to your studies, as Van der Heyden did. But she found out: ‘a life consisting only of work and school’ does not work. ‘I had to repeat many of my tests during my studies. It gave a lot of stress, maybe unnecessary stress. If I had worked less, I could have achieved everything more easily. ‘
Only when she had to do an internship, and working full-time twice is simply not possible, did she surrender: Then she had a student loan.
There are other ways to avoid debt. Figures show that students since 2015 have taken fewer premises, less often take a board year and more often choose not to move on from MBO to HBO. The social loan system has not so much influenced their choice to study as had been feared in advance, but their choice during their studies.
The dichotomy between the frugal and the lavish, for whatever reason, makes the question of compensation ‘quite complex’, says Tamara Madern. ‘A generic scheme is best regulated from a political point of view, but the impact of the social loan system has been much greater on one student’s study time than on another.’
That is why it is all the more painful that the gradual introduction of a new loan system was not chosen in 2015, says Madern. By gradually abolishing the basic subsidy, the effect would have been less. And then weaving errors in the new system would probably also have been discovered earlier. It would then have been possible to make a timely adjustment, without duping a generation of students.
Compensation is only a sum of money, as Van der Heyden and Molendijk will say. ‘The stress of debt can no longer be remedied,’ says Molendijk, especially now that she has noticed in the housing market that all those concerns were justified. ‘I feel like I’m starting my working life with a 2-0 deficit.’