By Mitchell van Dijk
In the last couple of years, the signs of depression and anxiety among students in the Netherlands has risen significantly. According to a study at the Windesheim university of applied sciences, that focused on the well-being of their students, almost 70% of the 3000 participating students were experiencing performance pressure. Additionally, 25% of the students indicated that they were having a burnout, and there was even a suicidal risk amongst 20% of the participants.
Not only students at Windesheim were experiencing an increasing amount of stress, but studies at other universities in the Netherlands show similar results. At the Radboud University, for example, 60% of the students were experiencing a high pressure to perform well, and 35% of the study’s participants indicated that they felt that the pressure was influencing their school results and well-being a lot. A study among 1700 students at the University of Twente indicated that even 80% of the participants suffered from stress, depression or anxiety issues.
Last February, a group of approximately 100 students came together in the Dutch second chamber (which is the hall where most of the important political decisions are made), to discuss the current state of affairs regarding student well-being in the Netherlands. This brainstorm session was organised by 6 student organisations together with one of the Dutch political parties “ChristenUnie”, due to the increasing amount of concern related to stress amongst students. The event was the start of a combined effort to decrease the pressure that weighs heavily on the shoulders of a big part of students in the Netherlands, named Coalition Y, and even resulted in the creation of a manifesto.
According to Gert-Jan Segers, who is the party leader of the ChristenUnie, the increase of stress and depression amongst students is caused by the pressure to perform well in both work and studies, while at the same time the chances of having a full-time job or a house is decreasing due to lack of experience gained in internships and the high study loans. Remco Meijer states in an article in one of the Dutch newspapers (de Volkskrant) that all the “soft” requirements, such as writing good motivation letters and having a good resume to get an internship or a job are additional factors for the increasing amount of performance pressure.
To tackle these problems, and create a better environment for students in the Netherlands, Coalition Y started to come together in small focus groups, in which they discussed different themes, such as the state of the housing market and the quality of education. Based on the outcomes of these focus groups and additional brainstorm sessions, Coalition Y came up with 10 different goals, which they combined into a manifesto. These 10 goals are:
1) They will tackle the current student loan system and bring back the previous basic grants.
2) They will commit themselves to lower the performance pressure among students and will try to give every student in both secondary and higher education the opportunity to get a good internship.
3) They will increase the certainty around the job market, and will narrow the gap between full-time jobs, part-time jobs, and self-employed people, and will create a good balance between work and private life.
4) They will confront the so-called “huisjesmelkers” (owners of a big amount of real estate) and create more housing opportunities for students so that students can live more affordably.
5) They will make sure that every youth in the Netherlands has access to help and healthcare.
6) They will create a fair, easy, and balanced pension system.
7) They will make a better overview of the purchasing power of youth.
8) They will implement a generation test so that the effects of new policies on different generations are clearer and fairer.
9) They will create places for youth within the formation of the cabinet.
10) They will fight for a cleaner, more liveable future for youth.
Within the UCSRN Executive Board, we discussed the value of the manifesto for University College students and tried to get a good overview of the benefits that the manifesto would offer. Our Chairwoman Mai Thai de Rijk and Ex-External Victoria Mai (2018/2019) talked to ISO, who is one of the two of the initiating youth organizations and also our partner, to acquire more detailed information about the manifesto and its purpose. Based on this discussion and the additional information we got from our partners, we decided to sign the manifesto as UCSRN, as we believe the outcome would benefit all students within our association. On the 16th of September, Mai Thai and Preksha Bapna, Chair of the Academic Committee, handed the manifesto over to the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, to represent the UCSRN, with many other student associations, organisations and politicians, during this important milestone.
We believe that the manifesto will make the Dutch government aware of the concerning trend regarding the well-being of students around the Netherlands, and we hope that it will convince the Dutch politicians of the critical need for improvement of student environment for both native and international students.
If you have any questions related to the manifesto, or if you want to sign the manifesto yourself, you can find more information on the official website https://coalitie-y.nl. Additionally, you can always contact us via [email protected]!