Themes such as internationalization, the housing shortage and the fate of the ‘unlucky generation’ generated considerable discussion during the first major election debate. Students mainly asked Pieter Omtzigt a lot of questions.
In the TV program College Tour with Twan Huys, students in the auditorium of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam had the opportunity on Sunday evening to test the four leading parties of the largest parties in the polls. Pieter Omtzigt (National Social Contract – NSC), Dilan Yeşilgöz (VVD), Frans Timmermans (GroenLinks-PvdA) and Caroline van der Plas (BBB) were on the podium.
What about the ‘unlucky generation’ and the ever-rising interest on student debt, wanted to know a student who will graduate with sixty thousand euros in the red. “If I had started studying in September, I would have half as much debt.”
“I finally paid off my student debt, so I understand your feeling,” said VVD party leader Yeşilgöz with a smile. “But students should still see their education as an investment in themselves.” She added that students should be grateful to grow up and study in “one of the most beautiful countries in the world.” Her words echoed the ‘great country’ of her predecessor Mark Rutte, whom she did not dismiss. She wanted to look at how graduates with student debt are assessed by mortgage providers.
According to Timmermans, the interest on student debt should be frozen at the current level. When asked whether the compensation for unlucky students should not exceed 1,400 euros, none of the politicians responded. Omtzigt briefly pointed out that it was PvdA, GroenLinks and D66 that had ensured that the basic grant was abolished in 2015. “That’s why I really want a coalition based on good plans and not on figures,” he concluded.
Omtzigt in particular was the target of the questioners, who wanted him to confess his color. When asked, the NSC leader did not rule out that he wants to become prime minister, although for him it is “about the content” and not “about the chair”. That earned him ridicule. Because, unlike all his colleagues, he has not yet presented an election manifesto. He will do that on Tuesday, he assured.
Omtzigt is still very concerned about the internationalization of higher education. By reducing Anglicization, the Netherlands will become less attractive to foreign students. This will also make student financing less expensive. “Now European students only have to work one day to receive student finance.” That one too lines should be different, according to him. He expects that if fewer internationals come to the Netherlands, the pressure on housing will also decrease.
All four party leaders were committed to additional housing construction. Timmermans wants thirty percent of all new homes to fall under social rent.
A student struggling with acute thoughts of suicide and depression complained about having to wait a year for help. “My life stood still for a year.” What are your plans to change this, he wanted to know from Van der Plas, who received few further questions from the audience. “More money is needed, because there have been far too many cuts in healthcare,” she said.
The same student then asked Yesilgöz whether this was not the political legacy of years of VVD policy. Were the waiting lists not due to the decentralization of healthcare? She admitted that her party has made mistakes on this point and promised that waiting times will be reduced. How exactly she envisions that was left up in the air.
The conflict between Palestine and Israel also keeps the students busy. Do the politicians disapprove of Israel’s actions? They were largely on the same page. “My heart cries for the people who are trapped,” Yeşilgöz said. But Israel must be able to defend itself proportionately, she said.
And what should happen next? Hamas is a terrorist organization, Van der Plas said resolutely. “You can’t talk to that.” Timmermans qualified that it is important to offer Palestinian citizens perspective and that the Netherlands must look for this together with the international community.
Want to watch the College Tour Election Debate? Which can here.
The post first appeared on punt.avans.nl