This is a summary of the research paper from Lotte van Vliet and Aino Seulanto. Their idea was to study how the student financial aid system has changed in two different welfare regimes in Europe: the Social-Democratic Finland and the Conservative-corporatist Netherlands. They used yearly reports from the European Commission on student fee and support systems to make this comparison. The research question of their paper is: How have the student financial aid reforms of the Netherlands and Finland affected students’ employment during their tertiary level studies from 2010-2018?
Education has a critical role in the outcomes of life and the formation of inequalities. Since 1999, 49 European countries have been trying to bring more coherence to the higher education systems in Europe through the Bologna process. These countries agreed to structure their education system according to common key values, with the main goal being to increase staff and students’ mobility and to facilitate employability (European Higher Education Area, n.d.). Apart from the Bologna Declaration, European countries still have their own educational systems and approaches based on the ideologies in their welfare state. Structural changes are very expensive, which has led many countries to also change their student financial aid system.
Using annual reports from the European Commission on student fees and support systems, this article investigates the changes that occurred in the last decade. As student loans are still governmental expenditures, they will have to be paid back and will increase personal debts. This study examines how students have reacted to these financial changes by using statistics on student employment and living at home. Parental background typically influences students’ educational performance and opportunities (Casanova et al., 2005), along with state financial aid systems for students. Without this financial aid, students often rely more on their parent’s help. If parents are unable or unwilling to help financially, students often need to work or take a study loan.
The question this blogpost focuses on is how have the student financial aid reforms of the Netherlands and Finland affected students’ employment during their tertiary level studies from 2010-2018?
A comparative perspective: interest groups, blame avoidance and welfare values
There were drastic retrenchments in both states, and little resistance to these measures in the Netherlands. Finland saw more resistance, but still experienced some retrenchment. Why is that?
Retrenchment is not something that is easily implemented in the modern welfare state. The new politics of welfare (Pierson, 1996) argue that distinct constituencies will act out of self-interest and defend the policies that they benefit from. Retrenchment is then often a matter of blame avoidance, and the student loan retrenchment of the Netherlands is no exception. Besides the obvious justification – that the abolishment of the student grant was necessary for economic recovery – most political parties seem to have their reasons for supporting increased student loans; the issue could be framed in an acceptable way for most of the electorate (Erdogan, 2021).
Blame avoidance was also used in Finland. They used a monetary compensation justification, by expanding loans as grants diminished, encouraging students to graduate faster (European commission, 2021). However, Finnish retrenchments have been less severe than in the Netherlands, which could be due to the political power of their interest groups (Boloni, 2005). As a result of the lifelong learning policy of Finland, the number of people benefiting from higher educational policies is relatively large, making drastic retrenchment more difficult to implement. On the other hand, in the Netherlands this group is smaller than Finland since students are on average younger and finish their education relatively quickly (Eurostat, n.d.). According to Boloni (2006), policies targeted at younger people are often disparaged by older groups, for whom they are less personally beneficial. When Dutch people enter the labour market, they are less motivated to fight for students’ rights. Dutch students are generally also not seen as a vulnerable group that need supporting (Slaman, 2014), so are less deserving of social benefits.
Besides that, the Netherlands had already been changing values towards market force, self-reliance and individual responsibility (Van Oorschot, 2006). The increase of student loans can easily be framed as a way to ‘invest in yourself’ (Lennartz & Ronnald, 2017). Thus, finding alternative ways to finance the studies, such as having a side-job, postponing leaving the parental home, or taking a study loan (van den Berg, 2020), are all worth it for the prospect of a better future. The Finnish welfare state on the other hand still holds Social-Democratic values. However, Finland is known to be more economically driven in their policymaking than the other Scandinavian countries which can be seen in Finland’s recent retrenchment reforms (Kettunen, 2010). At the same time, due to their strong welfare state, the effects of the retrenchment might not be as visible, since it is easier to fall back on other social benefits.
In investigating how the student financial aid reforms of the Netherlands and Finland affected students’ employment during their tertiary level studies from 2010-2018, it was found that both Finland and the Netherlands have undergone several changes in their student financial aid system since 2010. The Netherlands has retrenched the benefits drastically by forcing students to rely more on private funding, or taking a side-job or a loan. In Finland, the changes have been quite different since the student financial aid system has partly become even more generous, although the focus has drifted more towards study loans.
In both the Netherlands and Finland, changes in student employment are evident following the student aid reforms. Overall, student employment seems to be going up and down in Finland in the past ten years, while in the Netherlands a clear increase is visible. Considering that not many Finnish students live at home, it becomes clearer that the Finnish have relied less on other financial sources to finance their studies. This is not surprising, as their financial aid is still quite generous, and the reforms have been gradual. These results indicate that students have adapted to these changes – especially in the Netherlands – by working more and not moving out of the parental home.
Finland took more of a compensatory approach to reduce their student aid, while in the Netherlands it was easier to retrench aid without making financial compensation. Overall, both welfare states have been resilient in finding ways to adapt to the changing situation. Although it is important to keep in mind that due to the interpreted data it is impossible to make any causal assumptions; not every explanation for the changes in the student financial aid system have been explored. Furthermore, since many of these reforms are rather recent, they may not yet be visible in the data. Hence, the effects of the retrenchment in student financial aid will be more visible in the data at a later date. Future research can focus on consequences besides student employment caused by systematic changes to student aid; for instance, has this influenced people’s decision to study abroad, or pursue another diploma?
Click here to read their research paper:
Bonoli, G. (2005). The politics of the new social policies: providing coverage against new social risks in mature welfare states. Policy & Politics, 33(3), 431-449. DOI:10.1332/0305573054325765
Casanova, P. F., García-Linares, M. C., De La Torre, M. J., & De La Villa Carpio, M. (2005).Influence of family and socio-demographic variables on students with low academic achievement. Educational Psychology, 25(4), 423–435. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410500041888
European Higher Education Area (n.d.). Ministerial Conference Bologna 1999. EHEA. Retrieved from http://www.ehea.info/page-ministerial-conference-bologna-1999
Erdogan, A. (2021, february 8). This is how the basic student grant was abolished. Digitaal Universiteitsblad. Retrieved from https://www.dub.uu.nl/en/depth/how-basic-student-grant-was-abolished
European Commission (2021). Higher education funding, Finland. Retrieved 12/2021 from https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/content/higher-education-funding-25_en
Kettunen, P. (2010). The Nordic welfare state in Finland. Scandinavian Journal of History, 26(3), 225-247. https://doi.org/10.1080/034687501750303864
Slaman, P. (2014). Staat van de student. Tweehonderd jaar politieke geschiedenis van studiefinanciering in Nederland. (Doctoral dissertation, Leiden University). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/14820349/Pieter_Slaman_Staat_van_de_student._Tweehonderd_jaar_politieke_geschiedenis_van_studiefinanciering_in_Nederland_Amsterdam_Boom_2014_