Thousands protest Dutch university budget cuts
Thousands of university students protested in The Hague on Friday against government budget cuts that would see them cough up an extra 3,000 euros in class fees for every year of prolonged study.
"A government that says the education system is not good enough and then makes it even worse -- that is something I don't understand," Sijbolt Noorda, chairman of the Association of Universities of the Netherlands (VSNU), told picketers.
Police said 11,000 people, including students and lecturers, took part in the protest in a public park near the city centre, but organisers put the number at more than 20,000.
In a bid to cut spending and reverse a growing public deficit, the government has said it wants to save 370 million euros ($501 million) every year from 2012 by making slow learners contribute 3,000 euros to their annual tuition fees, normally 1,700 per year.
This would apply to students who require more than four years to finish a three-year bachelor's degree and more than two years for a one-year Masters degree, education department spokesman Job Slok told AFP.
In addition, institutions would lose out on 6,000 euros in government grants per student per year.
"We will invest this money back in education, to make it better," said Slok.
"Who is rich may be educated," read a poster at the protest gathering, with picketers complaining that the government made no exception for students with health problems or other, unexpected commitments.
According to Guy Hendricks, chairman of the ISO student association, about 70,000 students would be affected by the measure; "that is more than 10 percent of the student population".
The VSNU has said it expects the budget cuts to cost the jobs of 2,500 university professors and lecturers next year.
But Slok told AFP that universities "are independent in their spending decisions" and it was both "unnecessary and unwise" to dismiss any lecturers.
© 2011 AFP