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New governments, faces, and funding in The Netherlands and Sweden

Election results in both Sweden and The Netherlands have resulted in some important changes, with implications for higher education in each of these countries.

Some four months after early summer elections shook up the Dutch political landscape, the new government of The Netherlands presented itself in mid-October. In the face of a complex and highly fragmented electoral outcome, a minority coalition was formed between the Christian Democrats (CDA)—the nearly perennially governing party—and the Liberal Party (VVD), which came out as the ‘winner’ in these elections, but only by one seat. The right-wing PVV party formally endorses the coalition, but is not a member of it. The governing coalition therefore holds the slimmest of majorities: 76 out of 150 seats. Mark Rutte, leader of the Liberals, is prime minister.

The strong presence of the PVV will probably lead to a more Dutch-centred, anti-foreign and anti-Islam atmosphere. It remains to be seen however if this orientation will find its way into the Dutch legislative system. What is more certain is the prospect of huge financial cutbacks. This should affect all ministries, including that responsible for higher education, where Vice Minister Halbe Zijlstra is at the helm. He has been in parliament since 2004, responsible for higher education for his party (VVD), and was a member of a parliamentary committee researching changes in education. The Dutch Minister of Education is Marja van Bijsterveldt, who was vice-minister of education in the previous government. Dramatic changes in the grant system for master’s-level students are foreseen. Also probable is the effort to develop greater cooperation between higher education and employers, the stimulation of excellence, and efficiency improvements.  In a few months time, when Mr. Zijlstra has had the time to get settled, the Dutch will know more.

The dust is now settling in Sweden, too, with mixed results. Following Sweden’s national elections of 19 September, the big news is that there is no longer a minister-level appointment responsible for higher education. Instead, to the disappointment of many rectors, higher education has been subsumed under the Ministry for Education and Science, headed by Jan Björkland of the Liberal Party. Still, the news is not all bad. The national budget bill presented on 12 October includes, among other things, appropriations for undergraduate education in the humanities and social sciences on the order of SEK 200 million (EUR 21.4 million) in 2012, to be increased to SEK 400 million (EUR 42.8 million) per year from 2013 onwards. In addition, a total of SEK 500 million (EUR 53.5 million) was proposed to support research, with SEK 300 million (EUR 32.1 million) to be allocated to investments in “strategic research areas” and the remainder to go to “higher education institutions’ appropriateions for research and education at the doctoral level”. Ministry of Education in the Netherlands Ministry of Education in Sweden