“Wat wil ik? Schuldenvrij zijn!”: Students Protest for Debt-Free Education

By Jana Naskova

Collage by Amal

Following their first protest on February 5, students and their supporters gathered again on June 11, at 13:00 on Dam Square to protest what they see as insufficient and lacking policies the government introduced after abolishing the student loan system, which was in place from 2015 to 2022. With slogans such as “Dit is niet mijn schuld!” (This is not my fault!) and “Wat wil ik?Schuldenvrij zijn!” (What do I want? To be debt-free!), they demanded debt-free education for all. A wide range of organisations were present at the protest. There was an overwhelming number from the left side of the political spectrum with others ranging from anarchist collectives to socialist organisations. Despite the variety, all were in accordance in renouncing student debt. 

Photo by Jana Naskova

For nearly thirty years, Dutch and EU-students received a basic grant from the government, which did not need to be paid back unless the student took more than ten years to graduate; however, in 2015, this system was replaced with an income-contingent student loan. Even though the government has decided that a basic grant will return starting from 2023, a large number of students who studied from 2015 to 2022 still have a considerable amount of student debt they need to repay. They are sometimes referred to as the “bad luck generation.” One of the main demands of the protest is fair retroactive compensation for students who were affected by the loan system in place from 2015 to 2022. It was argued that a total compensation of 1436 euros allocated by the cabinet for this group is not nearly enough. 

Photo by Jana Naskova

Furthermore, the protest demanded an improvement of conditions for current and future students with the aim of achieving a basic grant higher than the current one, which would allow students to graduate with no debts. On their website, the StuFi protest states that the proposed monthly grant of 274 euros for students living away from home and the 110 euros for students living at home is not enough and will still force students to amass a large amount of debt in order to complete their studies. They also point out that while inflation has greatly increased since 2015, the grant for students living away from home is still lower than what it was in 2015. With this protest, they aspire to put pressure on the cabinet ahead of the debate on the Spring Memorandum taking place at the beginning of July, during which the plans for the basic grant and the compensation for the 2015-2022 generation will be discussed as part of the interim overview of the budget year. Additionally, they demand that the funds for the increase of the basic grant should not come from cuts to other parts of the education budget. The Herring spoke to several people at the protest to find out their motivations for attending, and what they hope will change in the future. 

Kevin (left). Photo by Jana Naskova

Kevin, a computer science masters student at UvA and VU, states that his girlfriend is affected by the changes in the loan system, which makes him irritated with the government’s policies. He finds that education has become far too focused on profit. Although he does not think the protest itself will bring about direct changes, he believes it will raise awareness on the issue of student debt.

Elise, who travelled from Utrecht to attend the protest, feels that the government’s policies in relation to education and debt have gotten progressively worse: “It’s been blow after blow after blow. Every year there has been some sort of setback.” She, too, is part of the “bad luck generation,” and is frustrated with how this generation is starting with a massive disadvantage. She would like to see increased compensation for this generation as she finds it too low at the moment. “It’s unacceptable to me that we’re being left behind; we’re actively being pushed back against. I just hope we’re heard” she says.

Anouk (right). Photo by Jana Naskova

Anouk, who graduated last September, started her studies just when the loan system got introduced, and completed them just before the loan system was about to be abolished. Like Elise, she wishes for the government to listen to the pleas of the “bad luck generation” and provide them with fair compensation. She believes that her generation is entitled to compensation that is as comprehensive as the generations before and after. She finds it unfair that due to the change in policies that affected her generation, she has racked up a considerable amount of student debt, which may prevent her from getting a mortgage.

Dina (left). Photo by Jana Naskova

Dina Badi, a student at Erasmus University Rotterdam and member of the Dutch branch of The International Marxist Tendency, finds capitalism to be at the root of the student debt issue. She finds that under capitalism, education and profit are inherently connected Thus, an adequate solution for debt-free education cannot be achieved within this system. She believes in free education for all. In order to do away with student debt, she believes that we must abolish capitalism. 

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