The parliament debated for hours yesterday about the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in a number of different areas, including education. The main interest was in primary and secondary school education, but higher education was also discussed.
‘My party is very concerned about pupils and students who are falling behind – there’s a widening gap and the effects will be long lasting’, said Rob Jetten of D66. ‘We are very worried about growing inequalities and the long-term effects.’
In order to keep students from falling behind, a whole range of catch-up and support programmes must be created, he believes. ‘As far as D66 is concerned, we should also compensate university students whose studies have been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.’
Jetten’s proposals were echoed by other MPs, including Gert-Jan Segers of the ChristenUnie: ‘We see the social and emotional impact of the current measures, and the consequences are particularly severe for young people, students and the parents of young children.’ Segers is concerned about postponed internships, among other things.
Prime Minister Rutte said it was clear that some students had fallen behind. The government has allocated tens of millions of euros to deal with the learning gap. ‘I can report that we are in dialogue with all the parties involved to see what kind of extra support is necessary for schools in all sectors.’
Even more delay
However, not very much support has yet been allocated for university students. They are eligible for a refund worth three months of tuition fees (535 euros) if they receive their HBO Bachelor’s or university Master’s diploma between September and January. The thinking here is that many of these students have probably experienced delays because of the coronavirus crisis, and it would take too much time to figure out who did and who didn’t.
D66 and CDA predict that more pupils and students will suffer an educational disadvantage. They submitted a motion asking the government to come up with a plan in collaboration with educators ‘to close the attainment gap and eradicate this new educational inequality’.
Other parties have also proposed such actions, so the motion will likely receive support from a majority of the House. In his explanatory remarks, CDA MP Harry van der Molen (CDA representative for higher education) said that the parties themselves have not yet prepared any detailed plans. ‘But conditions for students have not changed. If anything, this year is even harder: the entire academic year will be taught online. That means you have to start devising possible new measures in good time.’
For months now, student organisations have also been asking for extra resources for students experiencing study delays. The opposition had already requested such funding in the fall, but Minister Van Engelshoven was not eager to make any commitments. She’s willing to take a look at what might be necessary, but only once it’s clear how many students have actually fallen behind.