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Unanimous support for additional, ‘tuition-free’ year for students with delays

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Many students are falling behind in their studies because of the coronavirus crisis. The Dutch House of Representatives has just adopted a motion allowing them to enrol in an extra year of university free of charge. But it is too early to celebrate. Here's why.

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Taking an extra year to catch up on credits missed during the coronavirus pandemic: that's the proposal made by parties GroenLinks (Green Left) and D66, which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives earlier this week. Not a single party cast a vote against.

For good reason
Does that mean that everyone with study delays can now take a sigh of relief? Not exactly. Although compliance is customary, ministers have the right not to implement motions if they have a good reason for doing so.

That happened recently with a motion from ChristenUnie (Christian Union), proposing to exempt students who have practicals and labs in the evening from the recently-adopted curfew restrictions. An extra exempt group would undermine the effectiveness of the curfew, said Minister of Justice Ferdinand Grapperhaus, adding that practicals and labs can easily be rescheduled.

Now the ball is in the court of the Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven. Last week, she seemed to be receptive to the idea of compensating students experiencing delays caused by the coronavirus crisis, although she emphasised that not all students will necessarily need a whole extra year.

Administrative headaches
At the same time, she can't simply put aside a unanimous decision in the House of Representatives. She's already working with the co-Minister of Education, Arie Slob, on a national programme to help school pupils and university students who are falling behind. This motion could be included in their proposals.

Not to mention the practicalities of implementating such a measure. How do you decide who is experiencing a study delay? How can students prove that they have fallen behind because of the pandemic? These details could cause a lot of administrative headaches.

There's also the question whether an across-the-board measure would be the appropriate way to tackle this issue. Minister van Engelshoven chose this option before, by refunding three months worth of tuition fees to all higher education students in their graduating year. 

If taken, the extra year free of charge would please student associations: they want the government to give all students an extra year of study as compensation, regardless of their status. But the bill for doing away with tuition fees for hundreds of thousands of students would be exorbitant. That's money that the Minister would have to take from something else.

Very concerned
Briefly put, nothing has been carved in stone yet, and the election recess starts in just a few days. The Minister of Education promised to share the contours of her national programme with Parliament at the end of February.

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