BRUSSELS – Proposed changes to tuition fees and budget cuts in higher education in Flanders will place a heavy financial burden on students’ shoulders and make it more difficult for them to access and complete higher education. The European Students’ Union (ESU) supports the Flemish Union of Students (VVS) in its struggle against a new coalition policy in Flanders, which would implement unacceptable changes in higher education.
“The budget cuts proposed by the Flemish government, which blames austerity, are like a nose that is cut off to spite a face. You cannot build sustainable economies without a strong public support in favour of higher education,” says Elisabeth Gehrke, Chairperson of ESU.
The new coalition, composed of the Flemish parties N-VA, CD&V and Open VLD, wants to cut the budget for higher education by five per cent due to austerity measures. Universities and university colleges might receive approximately eighty million euros less due to this, while they urgently need more resources to improve the quality of higher education in Flanders. The decreased funds could furthermore lead to an increase of tuition fees of 400-600 euros, where the institutions themselves need to respond to the budget cuts individually. ESU and VVS would like to emphasize their view of higher education as a public responsibility that should be a priority of the Flemish government.
“By increasing the fees, the accessibility of our higher education system will go down and some young adults will not be able to overstep these financial barriers anymore. There will be a selection process based on students’ financial background instead of their competences, a trend that VVS stands firmly against! The consequences of these measures for students with a lower socio-economic background should not be underestimated. Each young adult should get the same chance in accessing higher education, regardless of one’s background,” says Sarah Tuytschaever, International Officer of VVS.
Talk to students!
ESU would like to stress the importance of including students in these discussions as they are the main benefactors of the higher education system. Students must be allowed to bring up their opinion and defend their views against changes that will impact their studies directly. Such consultation can be used to search for alternative solutions to the underfinancing of higher education that all stakeholders can agree to without victimizing the student population.
National unions of students in Europe adopted unanimously a resolution at ESU’s 66th Board Meeting in support of students in Belgium that have been fighting for more public investments in higher education. ESU believes that the Belgian government needs to take responsibility and acknowledge the importance of offering quality higher education for the future of the country and society. However, this cannot be accomplished with only limited resources and even less by implementing higher education fees and thus limiting access to higher education.
Last year, ESU presented its research project on the financing of higher education in Europe. This project observed that public investments in higher education have not kept up with the number of students in the past twenty years. Students have had to take an increased share of the cost-burden of higher education due to this development. The project furthermore warned authorities against implementing fundamental changes in higher education without providing accurate and extensive research on the possible long-term effect on students, higher education institutions and the society.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.