Student finance body Duo has denied it was ever alerted to the possibility of ethnic profiling at the service but was made aware of at least three cases over the last couple of years, broadcaster NOS has found.
Students with ethnic minority roots are “noticeably more often” accused of student loan or grant fraud than other students, research by the broadcaster and website Investico, revealed in June. The finance body’s checks are partly based on algorithms.
Lawyers involved in two of the cases that came to court in 2021 and 2022, expressed their concern about possible ethnic profiling to the organisation directly, and one student filed an official complaint with the service for discrimination, NOS said.
One of the students, who received an email from Duo accusing him of fraudulently receiving a grant for students who do not live at home, said the mail was also sent to 29 other students, the majority of whom had an ethnic background.
He subsequently contacted lawyer Rudolf van der Ham who not only convinced the judge the student shouldn’t have to pay back the €10,000 Duo demanded but also stated that “the list of recipients [of the e-mail] reveals that risk profiles have been made using ethnic characteristics.”
Van der Ham said he requested the risk profile used by Duo but never heard back. “We wanted to know why my client had been picked out,” he told broadcaster NOS. “Duo was indignant about it in court but the judge thought the question was legitimate. My client was exonerated and that ended that. Looking back, it’s a pity we didn’t take it further”.
Duo maintained it based its accusation on the “objective” criterium of the distance between the student’s home address and the address he was registered at, which it said was too short to be credible.
The body said it had not taken action following the signals because it had never received an official complaint about possible discriminatory fraud detection methods despite one student filing a complaint in 2021.
In 2014 Duo inspectors had come to his aunt’s house where he lived. “I was not at home when they came. They immediately told my aunt she might as well admit I didn’t live with her because “we see a lot of that with your kind”, he alleged the inspectors told her.
The student, convinced that he had been picked out because of his Turkish background, wrote to Duo but received no answer. In 2021 he filed an official complaint with the body.
Nothing was done about it until NOS approached Duo in the last week. Then the student received a phone call from Duo apologising for what happened. “Duo is very sorry that we failed to react to the signal of discrimination during a check,” a spokesman said.
Duo admitted that “with hindsight we did not pay enough attention to earlier signals which would have justified further investigation.”
Education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf has announced a “far-reaching” investigation into how the financing body carries out the checks and has ordered the fraud system to be put on hold.
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