UC | How did we benefit from the basic grant millions?


It was announced by the new cabinet a few weeks ago: the basic grant will make a comeback. The news followed a period of extensive lobbying by participatory bodies throughout the country. However, the compensation for those who missed out on the grant these last few years doesn’t seem to offer much solace. So, let’s take a look at how all those millions saved from the abolition of the basic grant were spent over the past years. Was it worth it?

First, a short recap: student grants were abolished in 2015 and replaced with student loans. Universities promised to invest the proceeds from this student loan system – known in Dutch as ‘studievoorschotmiddelen’ – in the quality of education. Institutions of education had several million euros to spend, but there are considerable differences between one (applied sciences) university and another when it comes to how the money is used and how much say students have in this matter.

Public broadcasting company NOS carried out an investigation in 2020 to find out how the money was broadly used. It turned out, for example, that certain institutions used the student loan resources to pay for power sockets and sustainable sandwiches. This only led to more commotion among students – including some here at TU/e – who were upset about their increasing study debts. But after my chairship of the University Council’s quality agreement committee, I started to feel a little bit less dissatisfied.

TU/e invests these resources in style, on educational innovations to be precise. This means, among other things, that lecturers can draw on these funds when they have a plan for educational improvement. These proposals, however, need to be in line with certain themes, such as digitalization or Challenge-Based Learning (CBL). They are then discussed in sounding board groups that focus specifically on those themes. And finally, the proposals are brought before the quality agreements committee, where they are scrutinized and eventually accepted or rejected.

After having seen and discussed these proposals for a year, it is my conclusion that the university uses the money to experiment with new forms of education and that the acquired knowledge is being shared between departments. In the end, the money creates time, space and reflection. And by dividing the money this way, the number of students who benefit from ‘their’ money increases, which is why I truly believe that the university will ultimately produce better engineers.

But I also remain critical. Because I’m not so sure whether this is what students really want. And innovation takes time, which means that students who started in 2015 and completed their bachelor’s program within the nominal period will hardly benefit from what institutions have managed to do and will still manage to do with this money in the future. In addition, the money wasn’t distributed among departments entirely fairly. Some departments have less time to apply for financial aid due to higher work pressure, and students have practically no influence whatsoever on these matters.

Besides, these investments have a limited visibility. Students, for example, also have the right to submit an application. I myself did so twice already – including for a course aimed at student board members – but there is no guidance to help students with such an initiative. The good news: work is being done to make this possible, so keep paying attention!

I would like to conclude this column with a phrase I sometimes use when I discuss this issue with friends: ‘Here in Eindhoven, this money is being put to good use.’ I believe that this investment will prove to be very meaningful to our university in the long term, and that it will be particularly beneficial to students who are about to start with their studies. I can’t say whether or not I’ll feel the same a few years from now, when I need to repay a €40,000 study dept and can’t afford to buy a house. That’s why you might run into me on Amsterdam’s Museum square on February 5 during the compensation protest.

Main photo | Andrii Yalansskyi / Shutterstock

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