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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
National reforms in higher education


14.Ongoing reforms and policy developments

14.4National reforms in higher education

Last update: 31 March 2024


News item | 15-02-2024 

Stimulating equal chances in the selection procedures for students.

The way in which students are selected for study programmes can lead to inequality of opportunity. Certain groups of students e.g. students with a migration background, are less likely to secure a place in the institution of their choice. Many scientific studies have  been conducted and the knowledge on how to prefent this is available. Therefore it is now up to the universities to actually apply this knowledge in practice. This is what the Minister of Education, Culture and Science writes in a letter to the House of Representatives. He also opposes 'shadow education' as a preparation for selection procedures. In addition, The minister believes that institutions should better inform prospective students about the selection procedures to prevent them from being deterred.

Effects of decentralised selection
The letter is an elaboration of the foresight study of the system of further education and science. The Minister also responds to a report by the Inspectorate of Education. Last year, it concluded that decentralised selection can have unintended effects, such as inequality of opportunity. Certain groups of students may then have less chance of getting a place in a programme that has a maximum capacity. And that can have consequences for the diversity of the student population. 

Applying knowledge
The minister believes it is important that study programmes are aware of the risk of bias. Much more knowledge has become available about the side effects of certain selection criteria and selection instruments ⎯ and also how study programmes can take them into account. For example, the Higher Education Selection Handbook provides useful and practical insights for study programmes to design and evaluate their selection procedures. The minister applauds the fact that universities of applied sciences and universities will use this knowledge to take a more critical look at their selection procedures, to better substantiate them, to exchange knowledge and to give each other feedback. In doing so, he believes it is important that employee participation is involved. The knowledge of students and staff can help to sharpen the process.

Combating shadow education
The minister is also emphatically opposed to 'shadow education': paid training courses in preparation for selection procedures. This systematically disadvantages prospective students who cannot afford such training. This is also important for study programmes: selection should be about the qualities and skills of a prospective student, not about the thickness of the parents' wallet.
To prevent 'bias', the minister encourages study programmes to use selection instruments that are not trainable. After all, it makes a big difference exactly how study programmes use a selection tool. By placing more emphasis on non-trainable skills, such as communication or collaboration, training courses can reduce the risk of undesirable effects. Think of an on-site capacity test, in which the candidate carries out a collaborative assignment and is then asked to reflect on it. Another possibility to increase equality of opportunity is to write the motivation letter on location, instead of at home. Because at home, not everyone gets the same help for this. Finally, evaluating selection procedures helps prevent prospective students from having to jump through extra hoops unnecessarily. 

Selection is a challenge for many students: in order not to frighten candidates unnecessarily, the minister calls on institutions to ensure proper information and transparency about the selection procedures that are used.

Student success
Improving equality of opportunity in selection is in line with the Minister's aim to focus on student success. Selection can challenge prospective students, but it can also unnecessarily push them to get a place in a selective programme. For example, this government has taken steps to reduce the pressure to perform. Think of an approach to strengthen the well-being of students in the VET, university of applied sciences and universities, so that students feel more at home at the educational institution, for example. The starting signal has also been given for pilots with a 'smarter academic year', which should provide more breathing space during the academic year. And finally, the return of the basic grant and the expansion of the supplementary grant will provide more financial peace of mind.


New student exchange program: Kingdom Scholarship (Koninkrijksbeurs)

News item | 28-11-2023

From next academic year, around 120 students per year can go on an exchange or internship within the Kingdom of the Netherlands with the so-called Kingdom Scholarship. This is a new mobility program for all students within the Kingdom. It is intended to increase short-term student exchanges. This grant is one of the measures to support Caribbean students in their study career.

Recent research shows that dropping out is much more common among students from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom than among students who followed their previous education in the European Netherlands. In university education, the dropout rate in the first year is highest among students from the Caribbean part.

Many Caribbean students encounter obstacles in further education. The step towards studying in the Netherlands appears to be a tough one. Caribbean students also have to deal with all kinds of practical problems, such as finding a home and administrative matters in the Netherlands.

Prevent dropouts and disappointments

The program should increase the short-term exchange of students within the countries of the Kingdom. It enriches their study career and offers Caribbean students in particular the opportunity to first try out studying in the Netherlands with financial support. Students follow different courses for a maximum of six months at an educational institution in the Netherlands. The goal is to prevent dropouts and disappointments by allowing students to try and experience it first. This contributes to study success and equal opportunities for Caribbean students. Fewer dropouts also reduce the debt problems that many of these students face.

Comparable to 'Erasmus+'

The Kingdom Scholarship can be compared to the Erasmus+ programme. This European program offers students the opportunity to follow a semester at a European institution with financial support. With Erasmus+, students from Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, the Netherlands or the BES Islands, can go to all European countries for an exchange or an internship with a grant, but this is not possible within the Kingdom. The grant amounts are comparable to Erasmus+.

The aim is that from the 2024-2025 academic year, around 120 students per year will use the Kingdom Scholarship.

Bill to bring more balance to internationalization in higher education


The purpose of the Balanced Internationalization Act is to ensure a balance between the advantages and disadvantages of internationalization in higher education. The consultation on this bill closes in September. The law will subsequently be submitted to the Council of State. The amended proposal can then be submitted to the House of Representatives - expectedly after the elections of November 22.

The proposal contains measures in the field of language and management of the admission of students. Direction is necessary to better manage the number of international students coming to the Netherlands. In recent years, the number of international students has increased sharply to around 115,000. In scientific education, 40% of new students now come from outside the Netherlands. Unchecked, this puts pressure on the quality of education and an increase of workload for teachers. In addition it is increasingly difficult for students to find a room.

These trends undermine the experience that education and student life should provide. There is a need for a strategic reconsideration of internationalization and the exchange of talent. This bill aims to achieve a sustainable balance in the higher education system. A balance between utilizing the great added value of internationalization on the one hand and maintaining quality, accessibility and efficiency on the other.

The bill contains measures to promote language skills in Dutch for both Dutch and international students. Institutions retain freedom over how they want to promote students' language skills, but it must be well anchored at the basic level (bachelor's and post-graduate courses), in the curriculum itself. All students who follow a foreign-language course are required to make an effort to improve their Dutch language skills. The bill also provides for a maximum number of places for students from outside Europe if educational capacity proves to be limited. This guarantees access for Dutch and European students. Programs that are suddenly confronted with high enrollments may decide to apply an 'emergency brake' if the quality of education is compromised.

Apart from these legal measures, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science wants to make administrative agreements with universities and colleges in the near future. Agreements until the legislation comes into effect.on more targeted recruitment, more active guidance of international students into the Dutch labor market and good information about housing. 

Extra investment of € 200 million per year in education and research


The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science announced that it will increase the structural investment in higher education and research by EUR 200 million per year. Through ‘sector plans’, universities and university medical centres (UMCs) have made agreements on how they will divide the new resources.This new financial impulse will support institutions and sectors in specializing, providing researchers permanent jobs and increase the quality of their education provision.  

To date, young researchers predominantly were employed through temporary contracts.The precarious nature of their position leads to uncertainty, short-term research and inequality within departments. The additional investment is expected to create at least 1,200 extra permanent jobs within universities.

An important aim of the sector plans is to promote cooperation between the institutions, the cohesion between education and research and to create focus. Although there is already a lot of cooperation between institutions in the Netherlands, there is still room for improvement.


Bill reintroducing basic grant sent to House of Representatives

News item | 24-10-2022 | 13:58

Today, education minister Robert Dijkgraaf submitted draft legislation to the House of Representatives to reintroduce the basic grant for all students in higher education. This will significantly improve their financial situation from the 2023/2024 academic year. In addition, the conditions for repayment of student loans for MBO graduates will be brought in line with those for higher education. This will underscore the equal status of the different forms of post-secondary education.

‘By reintroducing the basic grant I want to give young people a solid start and good prospects. Besides the fixed monthly grant, more students in higher education will be eligible for a supplementary grant,’ Mr Dijkgraaf explained. ‘This takes account of the financial position of parents in middle-income groups. The bill also aims to level up the position of MBO students in relation to their peers in higher education, by setting identical repayment conditions for all students starting in September 2023. This means MBO graduates will also have a 35-year student loan repayment period and the interest rate on their loan will be the same as for higher education student loans.’

Basic grant and cost-of-living payment

If parliament approves the bill, the basic grant in higher education will not only apply to new students in the 2023/2024 academic year, but to all registered students who are still eligible for student finance. Higher-education students living away from home will then receive €274.90 per month, compared with €110.30 for students living at home. In addition, over the 2023/2024 academic year, all students living away from home (including MBO) will get approximately €165 per month to cope with the steep increase in the cost of living, especially for energy and groceries. This means a student living away from home will receive a total of almost € 440 per month – €5,280 for the full 2023/2024 academic year.

The government is earmarking €1 billion annually for the reintroduction of the basic grant. The €500 million needed to restore students’ buying power is incidental expenditure.

The basic grant is one source of income for students, but it is not the only one. Besides job earnings, the parental contribution and the student loan, some students are eligible for a means-tested supplementary grant, depending on their parents’ income. The current bill proposes a maximum supplementary grant of €416 per month, which is €100 more than in the old student finance system. To be eligible for the supplementary grant, parents’ income should not exceed €70,000 for students in higher education. This will result in more students being eligible for the supplementary grant.

Mr Dijkgraaf also wants more students who are eligible for the supplementary grant to actually apply for it. He hopes to achieve this by adapting the grant application process via the Education Executive Agency (DUO).

Identical repayment conditions

Giving equal status to MBO, HBO and university students also means setting equal conditions for repaying student loans. Currently MBO graduates must repay their student loan in 15 years, compared to 35 years for those who were in higher education. The interest is also calculated differently for the two groups. As of the 2023/2024 course year, new MBO students who take out a student loan will get the same repayment conditions as students in higher education. Students already registered in MBO courses – for instance, beginning their second year of study – can choose between the old and new system. Students who do not make a choice will automatically fall under the new loan repayment rules.

Compensation payment

Although compensation payments are unusual when policy is changed, the government wants to make a supportive gesture towards people who completed one or more years of study under the loan system. To this end it has reserved an incidental budget of €1 billion. Based on a nominal 4-year course, this works out to roughly €1,400 per student. In addition, this group will receive study vouchers. This means that some 375,000 students will get an extra €1,835 either to help repay their loan, or as a compensatory payment if they already repaid or have no student loan.

The government held an internet consultation to invite feedback about the new student finance plans. Since the beginning of 2022, Mr Dijkgraaf has been talking with students around the country in ‘Speak up’ sessions. Topics include the basic grant, but also issues like wellbeing and housing. Reintroducing the basic grant is unlikely to solve all the issues the younger generation is facing.

Parliament is expected to debate the bill proposing reintroduction of the basic grant at the beginning of 2023. Once both houses of parliament have approved the bill, DUO will inform all students on how to apply for the basic grant. The likely starting date for grant applications is summer 2023.


Introduction of basic grant for all students in higher education

News item | 25-03-2022 | 14:15

The government wants to reintroduce the basic grant for all higher education students from the 2023/2024 course year, including students who are already registered on a course. In a letter to the House of Representatives, the government has outlined its dilemmas, deliberations and decisions to reintroduce the basic grant for recipients of student finance under the present system. Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf will explain the plans to the House of Representatives in a separate session.

Reintroduction of the basic grant

The government wants to reintroduce the basic grant for all higher education students from the beginning of the 2023/2024 academic year. Current first-year students will also be eligible for the basic grant from that year, providing they meet the criteria.

As with the ‘old’ basic grant, the proposal is to introduce a performance-related grant, the amount of which would depend on whether a student lives at home or away from home. In its letter to parliament the government presents several options. In the preferred scenario, students living away from home would receive €255 per month, compared with €91 per month for students living at home. The grant is provisionally issued as a loan, which is converted into a gift (forgiven) for students who obtain their qualification within the official 10-year period.

The government also wants to fund various supplementary measures from the budget available for the basic grant. To reduce inequality of opportunity in education, it will encourage MBO and higher education students who are eligible for the supplementary grant to actually apply for it. The income ceiling will be scrapped for MBO students who wish to receive the basic grant, nor will an income ceiling apply to higher education students once the basic grant is reintroduced for them. Having a part-time job or small business gives a young person work experience, contributes to their personal development and can help prevent them getting into debt. Finally, under the government’s preferred scenario the loan repayment rules for MBO graduates will be relaxed.

Compensation payment

The government recognises that reintroducing the basic grant is unfair to the generation who studied in the interim period during which there was no basic grant for students in higher education. Although compensation payments are unusual when policy is changed, the government wants to make a supportive gesture towards people who completed one or more years of study under the loan system. The letter to the House of Representatives presents a number of dilemmas inherent in the government’s plans, all of which relate to the compensatory €1 billion pledged in the coalition agreement. For instance, should all former students be eligible for compensation, or only those with a student loan?

The government is currently inclined towards supporting all graduates who studied during the period when the loan system was in place – even if they did not actually apply for student finance at the time. Based on a nominal study period of 4 years, this would work out to roughly €1,400. Students who start their course in the 2022/2023 year will fall under the loan system for one more year and will receive a one-off compensatory payment of €359. 

Introducing the basic grant is a key priority for the Education Executive Agency (DUO). This is a major technical undertaking for which there is little time available. Only after their systems are adapted to pay the basic grant can DUO start making arrangements for the compensatory payments. Despite its best efforts, DUO expects that it will not be able to make compensatory payments or adjustments to outstanding loans before 2025.

Extra money via study vouchers

On top of this, the government is proposing to use the existing study vouchers more flexibly. This means the voucher, which has a value of around €1,770, will be deducted from the outstanding loans of some 374,000 graduates. If the loan has already been fully repaid, the amount of the voucher will be paid out. People who studied in the first four years of the loan system received the voucher on obtaining their degree, as compensation for being unable to benefit from the quality improvements in higher education. Until now, the voucher could only be spent on further studies.

Example: someone who got their degree in four years and was enrolled from 2015/2016 to 2018/2019 will receive €3,206: the compensatory payment of €1,436 (preferred scenario) plus a study voucher of roughly €1,770.

Dialogue with students and the House of Representatives

Besides the plans above, the government is engaging in dialogue with young people about the broader concerns of their generation, such as finding a place to live and coping with pressure to perform. Since the beginning of 2022, Mr Dijkgraaf has been talking with students around the country in ‘Speak up’ sessions. Topics include the basic grant, but also issues like wellbeing and housing. Reintroducing the basic grant is unlikely to solve all the issues the younger generation is facing.

On 4 April Mr Dijkgraaf will address the House of Representatives about his proposal and the dilemmas identified in his letter. Shortly afterwards, the internet consultation will begin and anyone who wishes can respond to the proposal. After that, the plans will be submitted as a bill to the House of Representatives.