Eight parties standing in the Netherlands’ upcoming general election have submitted their manifesto to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB): what are the parties proposing and how will their plans affect the country’s economy?
Volt and JA21 have submitted their programmes for the first time. The most striking absentee is Pieter Omtzigt’s recently founded NSC party, one of the front-runners in the polls. Also missing are SP, Partij voor de Dieren, BBB, DENK, PVV, BIJ1 and Forum voor Democratie.
The CPB reports that, on balance, VVD plans to cut 1.3 billion euros in spending on education. One of its plans is to make Dutch the mandatory language of tuition in Bachelor’s degree programmes, except at universities of technology. This would lead to a drop in the number of international students, saving the government 400 million euros a year, say the economists.
CDA and SGP also want to reinstate Dutch-taught Bachelor’s programmes, while neither party mentions an exception for universities of technology. The CPB calculates that their plans also result in a 400 million euro cutback. ChristenUnie wants to allow more exceptions in this area and anticipates saving 200 million euros by reintroducing the Dutch-language requirement for Bachelor’s programmes. The long-term effects of this measure have not been calculated.
Some parties want to cap or abolish interest on student debt, which is an expensive intervention. Volt plans to set a maximum interest rate (2.5 percent) and is allocating 250 million euros for this purpose. D66 wants to fix interest at zero for young people who studied when no basic grant was available, a proposal the CPB says will cost 500 million euros. GroenLinks-PvdA also wants to cap interest rates and offer additional compensation to this disadvantaged group, at a cost of 900 million euros.
Overall, however, compensation for these students is looking more and more unlikely. Besides GroenLinks-PvdA, Volt is the only other party planning to allocate substantial funding for this purpose: six billion euros.
Basic student grant
A few parties want to increase the basic grant for students living away from home (as is the case this academic year). These are Volt, D66 and GroenLinks-PvdA. This initiative will cost around 700 million euros.
SGP, on the other hand, wants to ‘phase out’ the basic grant for children from families with an income above 100,000 euros. This would make the grant more dependent on parental income.
Volt has rather different plans, including major reforms in the tax and benefits system. This can make it difficult to estimate the exact impact on students. For example, Volt wants to abolish the basic grant for students living at home, but introduce a ‘household allowance’ of 3,300 euros, 'plus 1,300 euros per adult, 3,000 per child and an additional 3,800 for a single parent'.
Tuition fees are another variable. For degree programmes in teaching, healthcare and engineering, D66 wants to lower tuition fees to encourage more students to enrol. The party has earmarked 300 million euros for the plan.
The National Growth Fund appears to have no future. VVD, CDA, ChristenUnie and JA21 all want to scrap the remaining budget completely, a sum of 2.6 billion euros. The SGP’s plans leave less than half of the fund intact. GroenLinks-PvdA wants to scrap it as well and use one billion euros for an innovation fund. Only Volt and D66 are happy to go on financing the project.
This may have something to do with the nature of the CPB’s analysis. Due to time pressures, its economic experts had to restrict their analysis to the short term. The Growth Fund runs until 2025 and is intended for research and innovation that can strengthen the Netherlands’ ‘structural and durable economic growth’. 'A cut in the National Growth Fund will save money in the short term, but not necessarily in the long term', CPB director Pieter Hasekamp explained at the press conference.
VVD and CDA also want to scrap the Fund for Research and Science, which finances start-up and incentive grants, among other things: this would save 500 million euros annually. Other parties are not in favour of such a move. VVD also intends to abolish sector plans in university education and research, which represent an investment of 200 million euros.
In the past, the CPB’s economic analysis has been criticised for its limited scope. Everyone agrees that a strong education sector is vital to the economy, but the CPB’s figures do not always reflect this. Education often appears to be presented as little more than a cost item. The same applies to scientific research, and topics such as healthcare and infrastructure.
'It’s good that people are critical of what we do', CPB director Hasekamp says. 'It’s important that these outcomes are not seen as absolute. At the same time, they are an important instrument that makes measures concrete and comparable.'