On Thursday, June 3, various students groups in the Netherlands observed a national students strike under the theme #NotMyFault. Their demand was that the government implement a debt-free basic scholarship system, provide compensation for generations of students indebted by the loan system, and maintain the quality of education. Under the call of student and youth groups like the National Student Union (LSVb) and FNV Young & United, thousands of students joined a demonstration at Malieveld in Hague as part of the strike while adhering to the COVID-19 safety protocols. The New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN), Communist Youth Movement (CJB), Red Youth of the Socialist Party, and other progressive sections also joined the mobilization and expressed their solidarity with the students.
The protesting student groups raised the concern of generations of students burdened by loans amidst the devastation and hardship inflicted by the pandemic. The protesters demanded the introduction of a basic grant or a comparable form of universal basic financing for everyone studying in the Netherlands. The student groups also initiated a petition calling for the abolition of the loan system. As of June 5, around 41,337 people had endorsed the petition.
In the Netherlands, the basic grant system for students in place till 2015 provided for around 260 euros (USD 316.33) per month for students who lived away from home. It was replaced by the Official Student Loan system that gave students the option of borrowing up to 1,016 euros (USD 1,236.12 USD). The amount had to be paid back within 15-35 years (based on the terms of the loan). Students from disadvantaged homes were given the option of applying for an additional grant.
A study of the student loan system published earlier by the independent research institute ResearchNed showed that while borrowing is not a barrier to studying, most students in the country have an average debt of around 25,000 euros (USD 30,416) after their education. Student debt is also a factor while applying for a mortgage.
Almost all major political parties in the Netherlands, except the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), had earlier called for an overhaul of the current student loan system.
Following the mobilization on Thursday, the CJB issued a statement demanding the reintroduction of the basic debt-free scholarship for students, compensation for debt generation, and more investments in education. ‘’As CJB, we are fighting for free education, free books and study material, and a basic income for students to live on. We realize that only under socialism will students truly be free….and that is why we are fighting against capitalism and its political representatives,’’ the group said.