Strings or levers

| Niels ter Meer

It has always been hard to be a student, but especially now with a government which only pretends to have our back, thinks student columnist Niels ter Meer. For a fair start, we need more than just some strings pulled; will they throw the levers?


Last week, our Education minister held a lecture about his views on the future of education. He imagines a utopic future, where every individual can let their talent flourish wherever they wish. But after the lecture, a student posed him the question: ‘Do you think students still have faith in current policy, and look hopeful towards the future?’

Most of those dreams went right out the window. His answer almost entirely contradicted his lecture, his dream. Too much happened in six minutes to discuss in one column — believe me, I tried — so you’ll get the two-parter common thread of his answer instead.

A couple of times during his answer, he implicitly correlates having or getting a university degree to being wealthy; one thing he dreamed of getting rid of. According to him, it would be hard to explain to the other, (I take it) less-wealthy and/or lower educated part of society, to give us more money. But the debt, accrued during a few years of trade school close to home, during which you were entitled to a basic grant, does not compare to that accrued during the years of study, often far from home, that university graduates had to face. No wonder we’re always the ones complaining, right?

He also compared our predicament to those of the millennials, to those of our parents. Those, he says, missed out on free childcare, or are now faced with a new pension system. Free childcare is a beast of its own, but worthless if you don’t want children. The new pension system is a fix which may be needed with the current changing demographics. These are false equivalences; what we face is of a fundamentally different nature. I agree with him — we shouldn’t talk about a generation of bad luck — but for a different reason: we have been intentionally screwed over for an experiment.

Keep in mind, during our formative years, we witnessed the collapse of the financial system, and the dismantlement of the welfare state; and now we’ve had a pandemic and we see money evaporate before our eyes. There’s just so much to be pessimistic about. Then, on top of all that, we are, as the only generation, expected to pay an entrance fee to our adult working lives, starting us off miles behind others — just because we had the audacity to think that university was the place where our talents would flourish.

He recognises all this in his lecture, but he does not seem to connect the dots. The complaints may not be the issue themselves, but a symptom of a far greater concern. When we look towards the future, it seems bleak; that we might be the lucky generation seems all but probable. All we want is a fair start, one which we are currently being denied.

So at some point during his answer, he asks what little strings he could pull to make our lives better. Instead, I think he has two big levers; both of which he refuses to pull: money, and study load. For as long as we are not properly supported, (and no, a ‘smart’ academic year is not going to help, especially not if the 28 hour EC remains) we will be stressed out of our minds and pessimistic beyond words, and everything he has done will be marginal, if not entirely worthless.

So that just leaves me to wonder what the minister will do: will he just pull some strings, or dare to pull those levers instead?

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