Dutch Student Finance: A Blessay
I decided to write a post on the Dutch Student Finance as I felt the information about it was not easily accessible in one clear document. I also wanted to express some of my opinions about the student finance system itself and possible ways to improve it. Hopefully this will be useful for International students and I think that this or a document like this should be made available to all International students upon arrival in Maastricht. It’s quite extensive so I have made a mini ‘contents’.
- Composition of the student finance.
- How to get student finance: The process of obtaining it. The 7 Sacred Steps.
- The problems.
- The good things.
- International perspective, which country’s responsibility should student finance be?
- Implications that the student finance system has for Maastricht University.
- 7 Top Tips for getting student finance.
The Dutch Studiefinanciering (or student finance) is fairly easy to access if you are Dutch. However, the Dutch government are kind enough to offer to non-Dutch students with a couple of conditions. The student finance is accessed through the organization called DUO (formerly IB Groep). The website can be very conflicting/confusing.
The parts of the student finance are as follows:
The Tuition Fees Loan – €139 max per month, this is possible to get for International students with no extra conditions needed. You must pay it back as soon as you are earning over €13,215.83 (yes, apparently those 83 cents count…) per year and it has little interest on the loan: it changes per year but right now it is 1.5%. You pay it back over 15 years.
The General Student Loan – €505 max per month, this is paid back in the same way that the tuition fees loan is.
The Grant – €289 max per month. This is money that you do not have to pay back if you finish your studies. If you do not finish however, you must pay it back like a loan.
The OV Card – This is a card that allows you free public transport in the Netherlands (on trains, buses, trams etc). You must choose either a week or weekend OV.
The Supplementary Grant – €240.92 per month. This is a ‘means tested grant’ which means that it is based on how much your parents earn. If they earn under a certain amount, you qualify for this grant. To find out if you qualify, check the DUO website. http://www.ib-groep.nl/
The amounts vary slightly from year to year, and the amounts are also different if you are living at home or not. However, as an International student, I will assume that you are living away from home. The ‘Tuition Fees Loan’ is possible to get for any International Student with a few form-filling-out-exercises. The general student loan and the grant however – although given to Dutch students automatically – must be earned by International Students. Students within the EU are able to get the general student loan and the grant if, and only if, they are studying AND working in the Netherlands. To be officially ‘working’ in the Netherlands you must be working for at least 32 hours a month (that is around 8 hours a week – so a Saturday job or two evenings a week or so). In order to prove this you must have 3 months’ pay slips from that job.
The Process of obtaining the student finance – 7 Steps
- Rental Contract – you must have one of these for the place you are staying in, or another proof of address in order to register with the town hall (the Gemeente).
- Gemeente – you must register with the Gemeente (the town hall). In order to do this you must have proof of address in the Netherlands, Birth Certificate, and Passport copy. When you register, you get a BSN number (burgerservicenummer) or what we would call a social security number. This will allow you to open a bank account. Gemeente Maastricht website: http://www.maastricht.nl/. The Gemeente can be found at Markt 78, Maastricht. Their number is 0031 43 350 40 40. You have to make an appointment for a meeting with them and their opening hours are: Monday to Friday (incl.) from 8:30 AM to 5 PM and by appointment. Walk-in hours for people with only a postal address: Monday to Friday (incl.) from 8:30 AM to 12 PM.
- Dutch Bank Account – this can be opened with various banks such as Rabobank, ING and ABN. You must have a: BSN number, passport and (if opening a student account) proof that you are enrolled at the University. This can be done through obtaining a letter from the Student Service Centre (SSC). You may wish to get a mobile phone now, as you can now have a contract if you wish and it is handy if you are working to have a mobile. Having a Dutch bank account is helpful as you will not have to pay the extra costs that are charged for taking money out of a bank account abroad. You can also use the card from your Dutch bank account nearly everywhere: from shops to cafes. http://www.rabobank.nl/ Rabobank Maastricht: 0031 43 328 18 88, http://www.abnamro.nl/ , http://www.ing.nl/particulier/
- Register with uni and arrange way for fees to be paid – once you have a BSN number and bank account you can now arrange for the fees to be paid to your university if paying in installments. You must go to the Student Service Centre (SSC) and get the form (or sometimes it is mailed to you). If you are not paying in installments, and are paying in one lump sum- there is no need to pay from a Dutch bank account. You only need the Dutch bank account if paying in monthly installments. The fees are paid around the 25th of each month. Once you are fully registered you can get proper access to your uni webmail, uni wifi and you can get your Maastricht University student card (UM card) which gives you access to the buildings, the printers/copy machines, you can borrow books and you can put money on it for buying food without carrying cash around. SSC: http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/ServiceCentres/SSC.htm Number: 0031 43 388 5388 they can be found at Bonnefantenstraat 2 near the UCM and Business faculties.
- Work Contract – once you get a job, you must have an employment contract. It helps for proving that you work there etc. A contract for a set amount of time also guarantees you work for that time (which is helpful, especially when you really need it: eg. when you need to work for at least 3 months to get student finance). As soon as you start working, your normal European Health Insurance card (EHI, the one you get for travelling etc) is invalid, as you are now not just a student but a working citizen and you must buy Dutch health insurance.
- Payslips – each month you must make sure that the pay-slip (the official receipt that shows you have been paid, how much and for how many hours) states that you have worked 32 hours. It must generally be 3 consecutive months but exceptions can be made. Contact the student finance people directly about questions on this. http://www.ib-groep.nl/ 0031 50 599 77 55. The closest office to Maastricht is in Sittard, near the Sittard train station.
- Forms (DIGID) – after you have 3 consecutive months pay slips, it is time to make your application. You can do this through the many forms available on the DUO website but it can also be done online like the Dutch students do, through the DIGID. http://www.digid.nl/ 0031 70 383 70 30
The good things
- International students can accesss it.
- It is a lot of money when you get it.
- There is a grant and OV card which is not offered in lots of other places (many countries only have a student loan).
- Tricky to navigate some forms in Dutch, very bureaucratic etc
- Must have a job in order to get it (may jeapordise your studies).
- Cannot get it straight away (3 months work), must fund yourself for 3 months, maybe a little more.
This system is perfectly good, and better than most. However, it is difficult for those students that come from countries that will not give them a student loan if studying abroad (the UK for example) because in order to be entitled to the student loan you must have been there for at least 4 months (say 3 months working and around a month finding a job and processing the loan application). So this means 4 months funding student life yourself with no loan or grant. (The tuition fees are taken care of as you still qualify for the tuition fees loan without having to work). Many countries fund their students with a loan even if they are not studying in their own country. It seems unfair that – although the Dutch government is kind to their International students, and that I understand that they must have some sort of regulations otherwise they risk handing out money to everyone – many International students must fund themselves and work in order to fund their studies. This can jeapordise their study.
Another issue is whether it even should be the responsibility of the Dutch government to provide for students from other countries. Is the real problem here, not that it is tricky to access student finance from the Dutch government, but that governments such as the UK government do not provide for those students studying abroad? The Dutch students, even if studying abroad (for example Belgium), will still get access to the Dutch student finance. I think it is fantastic that the Dutch government takes education so seriously and are so kind to its’ students, but at the same time – why should they have to pay for the downfalls of other governments.
Programmes such as University College Maastricht (UCM) has a higher workload than other degrees, has more International students than many of the other faculties. With such a high work-load, in combination with an 8 hour a week job – should UCM students even be allowed a job? UCM expects 40 hours study a week and if there are 8 hours of work on top of this, it can be manageable – but is studying not a full-time job in itself? Cambridge and Oxford students are not allowed to have a job while studying and (if I am to believe my Oxbridge friends) they have a similar workload (although obviously the Oxbridge students are focused in one area). Are the conditions put on study finance for International students appropriate? Are we not meant to be studying right now, not working? Maybe we should be allowed to have a job if we so wish for extra money/work experience, but making it essential is maybe disadvantaging International students – especially in high-workload programmes such as UCM, and the other University Colleges in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague etc. Should there be an exception made for UC students – or is this favouritism taken to a new level? Would degrees such as Medicine count as high-workload? If we would abolish the ‘work’ condition for ALL students, is there a way to limit the numbers of students using the student finance – so that the government does not go bankrupt? Should it be based on your grades or another way? Or is this just as bad?
Implications for Maastricht?
If Maastricht University is trying to attract a truly International atmosphere it seems that many International students will face difficulty due to not having a student loan that nearly every student has in order to fund their education. This in turn could end up that we are attracting only the richest International students to Maastricht. From the university’s perspective I can understand why this is not necessarily a bad thing financially, although I wonder whether this will attract the best students. The International atmosphere is one of the selling points of Maastricht University and I think it important that they also attract the most motivated, enthusiastic, hard-working and inspiring International students, not only the most financially secure. Are the implications of the strict criteria for student finance going to impact on the University as a whole?
Degrees that boast a high level of international students as an essential part to the learning experience (such as UCM and European Studies) may suffer as they will have higher numbers of students working to get student finance and in turn may have lower exam results as an outcome of this.
The study finance regulations may even discourage students from coming to the University at all.
7 Top Tips on Student Finance
Don’t bet on the student finance. Have some money already saved up to keep you going for maybe 5-9 months or so, just in case. The most horrible feeling in the world is to be trapped abroad with no money.
This 5-9 month gap leaves for a few months to get a job, time to work the three months and a month or two to process your student finance. I think this is most realistic. I would say that survival in Maastricht is around €740 a month (that is roughly €300 for rent, €200 for food and €240 for fees [if paying your fees in installments]).
I would then say that if your job is 5 euro an hour 32 hours a month, then that is 160 euro a month. This means that I would recommend that you have around 680 euros savings per month so between €3400 and €6120 savings in total as back-up (or 340 a month if your parents are paying your fees in a lump sum, so that is between €1700 and €3060 back up money in total).
Beware of hidden costs such as signing up to the student study associations, introduction parties, books, bike, mobile phone, posting, any extra furniture/extras for your apartment, sports card, stationary, printing etc. You may also want to budget in a few trips home too, as the first months can be tricky. Cheap flights can be found at http://www.ryanair.com/en (flying from Dusseldorf and Eindhoven is especially cheap) however the most hassle-free way in my opinion is flying KLM from Amsterdam Schipol (http://www.klm.com/ ) as the train from Maastricht goes straight into the airport, usually with only one change. You can also use the Eurostar http://www.eurostar.com/ departing from Amsterdam or Brussels but is slightly more expensive and takes more time.
Make contacts and ask around about jobs. Jobs for English only speakers can be difficult to come-by, although they are out there. A good website to look on is: http://julesmaastricht.com/student-services/ . Typical jobs are waitressing/bartending, washing dishes, manual labour (eg. The Post Office), call centres (such as Vodaphone) and some office jobs for the University or companies that need Native English speakers.
Be clear with your employer that this is what you are doing. Make sure that you get the pay slips from them and that it is all legit. Make sure you get to work at least 8 hours a week (32 hours a month) and that your contract is for at least 3 months.
Have a Dutch friend to help you through the system – for example getting a DIGID etc. A lot of the forms do have English versions, but it always helps to have a Dutchie on-side. DIGID website is http://www.digid.nl/
Contact the student finance people if you are unsure about anything. Make sure you are clear at every stage. You can contact them on http://www.ib-groep.nl/
Stay positive! It can be tricky and difficult and some-times seems impossible, but you will get through it. If you know what is involved beforehand and if you are prepared to put the work in then you can live out the remainder of your study in the Netherlands with comfortable finances and a smile on your face.
All facts and figures are curtesy of ib-groep.nl.
About the author
Catriona studied at UCM. She was a contributor to the Maastricht Students blog from June 2011 to October 2011.