Mixed signals concerning the tuition fee reduction for the Covid generation of students. Photo: Pixabay

Correction: Not every Master’s graduate to get a 535-euro rebate

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The website of the Dutch Ministry of Education says students earning their Master’s degree this academic year are entitled to a 535-euro refund on tuition fees. However, the more detailed information provided by the Education Executive Agency (DUO) seems to tell a different story.

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Earlier this week, the Dutch Ministry of Education posted a Q&A (in Dutch) on its website to address the most urgent questions regarding the Covid compensation some students are entitled to. How much will tuition fees be next year? How much will the refund be for students graduating this year? To name but two...

The Q&A contained a pleasant surprise for freshmen: first-year students will start the new academic year paying only 542 euros in tuition fees, an unprecedentedly low amount. Unfortunately, that information was not entirely correct. The Q&A had an error, which has already been corrected. 

“If you graduate from a university Master’s programme or a university of applied sciences programme before 31 August 2021, you will be entitled to a refund of 535 euros from the DUO”, writes the Ministry. But on the DUO website, the government attaches an additional condition to the refund: students are also required to have attended at least one month of publicly funded education in the previous academic year (2019/2020).

The Ministry’s spokesperson confirmed this to be the case, even though the particular condition was initially nowhere to be found in the Q&A. 

Gap year
This is an important distinction: it means that students who, following a gap year, started a one-year Master’s programme last September, and completed their studies on time, will not be entitled to the 535-euro rebate. In other words, it’s bad news for students who completed their Bachelor’s in 2019 and decided to take a year out to work or travel – plans that probably came to nothing anyway due to the pandemic.

The same applies to international students who travelled to the Netherlands last year for a one-year Master’s programme. They too were not enrolled at a Dutch university or university of applied sciences in the previous year. In addition, some students at universities of applied sciences can kiss their refund goodbye if, for whatever reason, they decided to stop for a year with the intention of graduating this year.

The reasoning behind the condition does make some kind of sense: the refund is intended to help students who have fallen behind because of the crisis. Students who dutifully completed their one-year Master’s programme within twelve months, for example, were clearly not affected.

Snags and catches
But online education is definitely not the same as attending the university in normal times, so students who found themselves deprived of a part-time job this past year could certainly have used a refund too. The presidents of the national student organisations therefore insist that everyone studying during the pandemic should receive fair compensation.

“The Covid crisis is affecting students in a variety of ways”, says LSVb chair Lyle Muns. “This support measure is the only help students can count on this year. As such, it’s important that it should apply to everyone”.

The condition has also come as a surprise to Dahran Çoban, Chair of the Dutch National Student Association (ISO in the Dutch acronym). She believes there should be no snags and catches attached to the compensation for the current crop of students. “Many students graduating this year feel the difficulties they have experienced over past year have been ignored for the most part”.

Missing the boat
DUO’s figures show that approximately one in ten Dutch Bachelor’s graduates start a Master’s programme following a gap year. Of the nearly 56,000 who started a Master’s at a Dutch university in 2020, around one in five came from outside the Netherlands, according to figures published by the Association of Dutch Universities (VSNU). These are students who were never previously enrolled in a Dutch higher education institute.

Have these groups missed the boat? That is probably something of an overstatement. After all, some of them are pursuing a two-year Master’s programme or have indeed fallen behind with their studies. In any case, students in their situation will benefit from the tuition fees being cut in half in the coming academic year.

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