Student unions and education ministry officials have been meeting in an effort to come up with answers for the problems coronavirus is causing students, particularly those from abroad.
Students, universities, the ministries are really working hard to try to make sure that the negative impact on all students is kept to a minimum, says Jeroen Wienen, spokesman for Dutch international education agency Nuffic.
‘There is a lot of willingness to work together,’ says Wienen. ‘But if you consider they only closed the universities on March 16, universities have been quick to put stuff online and hopefully keep delays to a minimum.’
Nevertheless, international students face a range of problems which do not affect local youngsters, not least that many of them are isolated, without support networks to fall back on.
‘Students in general are raising numerous problems, they face delays, they are shifting to online education, they can’t do lab work,’ says Kees Gillerse, chairman of the student organisation Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg. ‘But we have realised that international students probably have more uncertainty than the Dutch and some universities have not done enough to communicate with them.’
One specific problem facing EU students in the Netherlands is the loss of their student loans, if they no longer have a job of 56 hours a month. They may also lose the right to health insurance and reduced student travel if they are not working the requisite number of hours.
Katarzyna Kowalczyk, a Polish student at the University of Amsterdam has started a petition calling on the government to give students who live in shared accommodation help with paying their rent, which has been signed by over 10,000 people.
Students who do not have their own front door or who live in student hostels and ‘hotels’ are not entitled to claim huurtoeslag, a government benefit to help pay rent.
‘Before the coronavirus crisis, most of us were part-time baristas, waiters, bartenders, babysitters, retail workers, and at-home tutors, working along with studying to be able to afford to live in Amsterdam or The Hague,’ she said.
‘Now, we are left in a uniquely uncertain position: without any source of income, social protection, or savings in a foreign country, with no way of going back home because of canceled flights and closed borders, during a worldwide pandemic. The only certainty we do have is that by the end of the month, we have to pay our rent.’
Non-EU students have to get at least 50% of the required degree points to keep their residence permit, but in some cases this too is becoming impossible, Gillerse said. ‘The closure of physical universities is asking a lot, but dealing with the challenges requires flexibility from both institutions and students.’
Bachelor student Ekaterina said she is most concerned about the fees. ‘I pay €6,700 a year… but I believe these costs are calculated on an educational style that universities can no longer offer. I don’t think the education I am currently being offered meets the standard and is worth the price.’
Her point is echoed by Sujith, a master’s student at Delft University of Technology. ‘International students pay a lot of fees – around €19,000 a year – and the campus is going to be closed for at least six months. We would like to have our fees partially refunded,’ he told DutchNews.nl.
Students who are currently completing master’s degree theses face particular problems if their subjects involve physical research.
American master’s student Matt was interning at a private sector company as part of his thesis but everything has now switched to digital. ‘It is a little frustrating because I did not sign up for an online degree,’ he says. ‘It is unfortunate, but it is no-one’s fault. But this does lower the educational value of what I am doing because I can’t meet and talk to people directly.’
Master’s degree student Nick has returned home to Austria to write his thesis. ‘It was really a financial decision because I was paying a lot of rent but everything related to my degree was online,’ he told DutchNews.nl.
‘My graduation project was based on research at the zoo in Amsterdam but that is closed now, so I am trying to re-organise everything. It should have been very reliant on group meetings, but now I have to do an online survey instead.’
Not all international students are unhappy. University of Amsterdam economics student Sushrut Munje told DutchNews.n he was not worried that he would not complete this academic year. ‘The university been proactive and responsive to all concerns, our classes have smoothly moved online, so have some exams.’
And Nuffic’s Wienen says this year’s students should not face too many delays. ‘But the impact on the next academic year is unclear,’ he said. ‘We don’t yet know what the problems will mean for entrance requirements and assigning places.’
A spokesman for the education ministry told DutchNews.nl that the ministry is likely to make a new statement in the coming week.
Nuffic website information in English
Student rights and links to official sources
Student union LSVB
Information and links for international students
What if you can’t pay your rent?
Your rights as a tenant, put together by the LSVb.
Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg
Information for international students provided by umbrella group ISO
Your rights if your study is delayed
The impact of coronavirus on exams and internships
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