Universal Periodic Review of Vanuatu

The following report has been drafted by Broken Chalk as a stakeholder contribution to the Republic of Vanuatu.

  • Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) administers and manages the country’s formal education system composed of two years of preschool, six years of primary school, four years of junior secondary education, and three years of senior secondary education. [i] The six years of primary education have been compulsory and universal since 2010. Over 98% of elementary schools are public or government-aided Christian schools. [ii]
  • Vanuatu has significantly raised the share of government expenditure dedicated to education compared to the total government spending. In 2020, 20.98% of the total expenditure was dedicated to education, increasing to 23.76% by 2021. In the progress report for 2021 and 2022, the exact government expenditure still needs to be mentioned. Nevertheless, the report describes progress in the education support program as satisfactory and anticipates that approximately 28% of the total government expenditure will be allocated to the education sector in 2022. This shows Vanuatu’s dedication and commitment to meet domestic educational funding objectives. [iii]
  • Local educational groups encompass Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Technical Assistants (TAs) who provide specialised technical knowledge and assistance in educational projects or programs. These actors actively participate in evidence-driven policy discussions and monitor equity and learning outcome efforts to improve educational results. [iv]
  • The multilingual character of the community has a significant impact on education. Bislama, the local pidgin language, is the prevalent means of communication nationwide. Children receive their education in French or English schools with a language policy promoting students to start their early education in their native vernacular before transitioning to French and English. [v]
  • Vanuatu comprises 83 scattered islands, with 64 of them being inhabited. It is considered the most disaster-prone country globally, frequently encountering earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, cyclones, and flooding. This poses unique challenges to ensuring education, educational materials and access to continuous education in emergencies. [vi]
  • With about 50% of Vanuatu’s population being of schooling age, the educational system has considerable influence and responsibility. The primary education sector accommodates most students, making up approximately 59% of the total student population within the education system in any given year, with enrolment rates increasing. Participation levels in pre-school and secondary school are somewhat lower. Although registration has risen recently, many students drop out at the junior secondary level. [vii]
  • Broken Chalk is delighted to see Vanuatu’s dedication to advancing Gender Equity and Inclusion in Education. This commitment is evident through initiatives to increase awareness of Gender-based Violence and foster equitable educational opportunities, particularly by enhancing the participation of girls and women in higher education through the Gender Equity in Education Policy (GEEP) reviewed in August 2018. The policy aims to secure equal opportunities and rights for every individual in education and training, with its overarching objective being to cultivate a proficient and capable human resource pool that can contribute to the nation and the global community. [viii]

By Inja van Soest

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[i] GlobalPartnership.org. “Education and Training Sector Strategy (VETSS) for 2020-2030.” GPE Transforming Education, 2020. https://www.globalpartnership.org/content/education-and-training-sector-strategic-plan-2020-2030-vanuatu. (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023) P. 3

[ii] GlobalPartnership.org. “Vanuatu | Where We Work | Global Partnership for Education.” www.globalpartnership.org. GPE Transforming Education, 2020. https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/vanuatu. (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023)

[iii] GlobalPartnership.org. “GPE 2025 Results Framework for Vanuatu.” GPE Transforming Education, 2022. https://www.globalpartnership.org/content/gpe-2025-results-framework-vanuatu. (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023) P. 1.;    Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “2021-22 Vanuatu Development Program Progress Report,” Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2021.

[iv] GlobalPartnership.org. “GPE 2025 Results Framework for Vanuatu.” GPE Transforming Education, 2022. https://www.globalpartnership.org/content/gpe-2025-results-framework-vanuatu. (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023) P. 2.

[v] GlobalPartnership.org. “Education and Training Sector Strategy (VETSS) for 2020-2030.” GPE Transforming Education, 2020. https://www.globalpartnership.org/content/education-and-training-sector-strategic-plan-2020-2030-vanuatu. (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023) P. 1.

[vi] ibid P. 1

[vii] ibid. P. 3, 8

[viii] Ministry of Education and Training. Reviewed Gender Equity in Education Policy (GEEP) (2018). https://moet.gov.vu/docs/policies/Reviewed%20Gender%20Equity%20in%20Education%20Policy_2018.pdf (Accessed 12 Sept. 2023)

Cover image by Michael Coghlan on Flickr.

Dutch Student Loan Interest Rates Increase Sharply in 2024


by Inja van Soest

At the beginning of October, the Dutch government announced their decision to raise student loan interest rates to their highest level in 14 years. This announcement ignited controversy and many debates. From January 1, 2024, student loan interest rates are set to surge from 0.46 per cent to 2.56 per cent, as reported by the Dienst University Onderwijs (DUO), the government body responsible for student financial aid.

The sudden and significant increase in interest rates has left many current and former students stumbling, with widespread disagreement over the reasons behind this unexpected move. While some argue that the growth is a necessary adjustment, others contend it is a breach of trust, further compounding the financial burdens faced by students.

The Impact on Students

In response to this increase, students have voiced their frustration and disillusionment with protests, online discussions, and their professors. Many believe they are being unfairly targeted, especially considering that the government has recently eliminated student debt for new students. More and more students struggle to find affordable housing and pay immense amounts for rooms they are often not allowed to register at. Therefore, they miss out on possible governmental funding such as the reintroduced Basisbeurs, a government grant providing financial assistance to students to cover their educational expenses.

Different Perspectives

“It’s hard to comprehend why the government would choose to burden those of us who still have debt with this interest rate hike,” says Paul, a former student. The sentiment among these students is that the government has not been transparent about the implications of this increase. Usually, when wanting to loan money, there is a clear indicator to remind people that loaning money costs money. The typical logo is nowhere to be seen when looking for information about Dutch student loans.


Conversely, some argue that the rate hike is reasonable, emphasising that everyone should know that borrowing inherently comes with interest costs. “They knew they were borrowing money, which comes with a price. Some say that students borrowed the money to finance parties and a luxurious lifestyle, while others used it to buy a house. Some say no one should be complaining as loaning money comes with the personal responsibility to be able to pay it back. They further argue that a student who pursues a meaningful and lucrative career can quickly repay their debt within the 15-year timeframe.

Whilst it is true that the student loan agreements depend on and are tied to the government’s borrowing costs, the interest rise has been coming. However, students feel like they have been cheated and are being cornered.

Government Response

Whilst Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf does acknowledge the concerns of students and the public, he assures that the rate adjustment is tailored to each student’s financial circumstances. He highlights that those with low incomes will have lower monthly repayments, aiming to ease the financial burden. Furthermore, Dijkgraaf believes that reintroducing the basic grant (Basisbeurs) and temporary assistance to counteract rising inflation and energy costs will financially relieve many students. However, as mentioned before, many cannot access help due to their living situation not officially registered.

The decision to raise interest rates comes after six years, during which student loan interest rates remained at 0 per cent. This was primarily due to the Dutch government’s ability to borrow funds at favourable rates in the capital market; however, the loan interest had to rise at some point due to rising interest rates.

The Feeling of Broken Promises

Van der Ham, a student herself, expresses profound disillusionment with the government’s actions amid this debate. She recalls that she believed in three critical conditions when she started borrowing. “The first was that your student debt would not affect your ability to secure a mortgage in the future,” van der Ham says in correspondence with NOS. Additionally, it was conveyed that the loan was favourable, with little to no interest.

Lastly, there was the impression that the income generated from the loan system would be reinvested in improving the quality of education. Van der Ham feels that none of these promises have materialised.

A law student, Jim Hiddink, shares similar sentiments, feeling that the situation is unjust. “When you begin borrowing, you agree with the government, but now the entire nature of that agreement is changing. The interest rate remained low, at most 0.5 per cent.”

In a letter sent by the outgoing Minister of Education, Dijkgraaf, to the Dutch Parliament in 2022, it was stated that there was never a promise to maintain a 0 per cent interest rate or that the size of a student’s debt would have no influence on their mortgage application. Previous ministers, including Jet Bussemaker, had, however, stressed that the consequences should remain limited and students should not develop a “fear of borrowing.” Which has now, unfortunately, become a reality for many.

Mustafa Ersoy’s Plea for Swiss Asylum

Mustafa Ersoy’s fate hangs in the balance as he faces deportation to Turkey. With his expired passport, he has turned to Switzerland in a desperate plea for asylum.

by Inja van Soest.

In a recent report by İsmail Sağıroğlu from Boldmedya, we learn of yet another tragic chapter unfolding against a backdrop of mounting pressure within Turkey. Mustafa Ersoy, a 52-year-old educator from Konya Beyşehir, is facing deportation. After completing his studies in computer science in Kazakhstan, he stayed for a decade as a teacher. Afterwards, he returned to his homeland, Turkey, assuming roles as a manager in Beykoz and Sultanbeyli reading halls affiliated with Kaynak Eğitim in Istanbul.

However, Mustafa’s life took a sharp turn on July 15, 2016, when Turkey experienced a coup attempt. The Turkish government attributed the coup to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. Once an ally of President Erdogan, Gulen firmly denies any involvement in the coup. The Turkish government has labelled Gulen’s network as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO), accusing its supporters of establishing a “parallel state” by infiltrating various state institutions, including the police, judiciary, and military. In the two years following the coup attempt, Turkey remained under a state of emergency, leading to the arrest of tens of thousands and the suspension or dismissal of at least 125,000 civil servants, military personnel, and academics suspected of having links to Gulen.

When Mustafa’s colleagues started facing detainment and arrests, he sought refuge in Kazakhstan. However, his inability to renew his passport forced him to leave Kazakhstan, ultimately reaching Switzerland via Greece, where he applied for asylum.

Regrettably, Mustafa Ersoy’s application was rejected on two separate occasions, with him not having access to the information in his case files. The situation reached a critical juncture on Thursday, October 12th, when Swiss Police picked him up in the early morning hours at the camp where he had been staying and escorted him to the airport. Mustafa refused to board the flight to Turkey, fully aware that he would face imminent arrest and persecution upon his return. Since then, he has been in a detention centre near Geneva alongside other immigrants awaiting deportation to their home countries.

It was not until Monday, October 16th, that Mustafa received a glimmer of hope when a Swiss court granted him the right to reapply for asylum. His re-application with the legal help of FLAG21 is now under review, with a decision expected within the next ten days.

Broken Chalk firmly stands with Mustafa Ersoy and is grateful for the help he has received from FLAG21. Broken Chalk appeals to the Swiss Government to grant him asylum and protection from the potential persecution he faces at the hands of the Turkish Government.

More information about the attempted Coup: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/7/15/turkeys-failed-coup-attempt-explainer

And the original news article: https://aktifhaber.com/gundem/isvicrenin-deport-kararina-direnen-mustafa-ogretmen-destek-bekliyor.html

Amidst controversy and politics, the Akbas-Tereci family seeks safety and a place to call home.

In the Netherlands, the Akbas-Tereci family, devout members of the Gülen Movement, stand at a precipice of uncertainty. With the impending arrival of their second child, this Turkish couple and their five-year-old daughter Vera face a worrying reality. This legal dilemma threatens their pursuit of safety and stability. Their journey from Turkey to the Netherlands lays bare the unforgiving complexities of seeking asylum, shedding light on profound questions of justice and compassion in a world of uncertainty.
~ by Inja van Soest

Sümeyra Akbas en Beytullah Tereci with their daughter Vera. FOTO: NIELS DE VRIES
Sümeyra Akbas en Beytullah Tereci with their daughter Vera. FOTO: NIELS DE VRIES

A recent petition has sparked interest in the faith of this young family. Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci, a Turkish couple currently residing in the Netherlands with their five-year-old daughter, are expecting their second child. The couple is part of the Gülen Movement, which promotes a tolerant Islam emphasising altruism, modesty, hard work and education. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government accused the movement of being involved in an attempted coup in 2016, leading to much controversy about the movement and a political conflict. The Gülen Movement is classified as a terrorist organisation, making it dangerous for Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci to return to Turkey.
The family have been in the Netherlands for more than a year now. They have been volunteering in their community whilst attending Dutch language courses thrice weekly. Their five-year-old daughter has started to speak Dutch and has made local friends. Beytullah states: “We want to feel at home here. We came here to start a new life and have a future.”

Typically, Turkish refugees are granted residence permits, with approval rates reaching as high as 97.5 % in 2022, according to VluchtelingenWerk statistics. However, the case of Akbas and Tereci stands out due to their unique circumstances. While the parents hold Turkish citizenship, their daughter is of Brazilian nationality. Akbas and Tereci had fled from Turkey to Iraq before the failed coup attempt in 2016. They married in Iraq and built their lives as elementary school and preschool teachers. They had five more years of validity on their Turkish passports and believed they could return to their home country within that timeframe. However, when they were expecting their first child, they had to make a decision. If their daughter had been born in Iraq, she would have been stateless without any papers as them being Gülenists; they couldn’t go to the Embassy out of fear of being arrested. She would neither be granted a Turkish nor an Iraqi passport, and they would have been unable to leave Iraq. They decided to go to a country where their child would receive papers by birth. And they ended up going to Brazil for the birth of their daughter.

After two months of being there, they returned as a family of three. They didn’t plan on settling there. Therefore, they didn’t need a Visa, as their stay was shorter than three months. Afterwards, they returned to Iraq, where their jobs and life awaited them. Five years later, the decision to get papers for their daughter puts them in a situation where the Netherlands does not want to grant them residency as their daughter is Brazilian. The ruling of their case states they have a connection with Brazil. However, they neither speak the language nor have family or friends there.

The court ruling surprised the couple and their lawyer because the family would not receive residency in Brazil either, which could ultimately lead to them being deported to Turkey. The family was supposed to have to leave their current asylum centre by the 14th of September but have been offered the option to go to a different asylum centre. However, they would not be allowed to leave the town and have to sign in every morning that they are present at the centre. Akbas expresses his feelings of having escaped an unjust Turkish prison sentence to now live like a prisoner at the asylum centre. A daily life without much prospect. “It is like being sick, and you don’t enjoy anything. I don’t enjoy food or drinking. It should be happy times for my family; we worry too much instead.”
The initial ruling has been appealed, but the judge ruled against the appeal again, a disappointing outcome. But the family, their lawyer and their friends are unwilling to give up. Whilst their case is being fought in court, their Dutch language teacher has started a petition to revise the decision made by the court.

Beytullah Tereci is thankful for the support the family has been getting and hopes for a positive outcome for his family and his children. “We want to be home, but we cannot go there. So we choose a new home, a future. How can it be that your home is not welcoming you, and you still have to go.”

If you want to support Sümeyra Akbas and Beytullah Tereci and their daughter Vera, you can sign the petition here: