Doubts about DUO’s hard line towards 25 former students every year
It is estimated that every year 25 former students have to pay back their student loans in full, even though they graduated on time. They forgot, however, to send their degree certificate to the Education Executive Agency DUO. Dijkgraaf is having this policy examined.
It came as a shock to a former student who relocated from Belgium back to the Netherlands. It turned out that he had a substantial student loan debt. Warning letters from the Education Executive Agency had never reached him.
If you graduate within ten years, the basic student grant, student public transport pass and supplementary grant are converted into a gift. Anyone who does not graduate has to pay everything back. In the Netherlands that all happens automatically.
But things are different for students who live in other countries. They have to send a copy of their degree certificate to the Education Executive Agency. If they forget to do so, they have to pay back their debt – even if they got their degree on time. It is a mistake that can cost thousands of euros.
How often does it happen? GroenLinks asked Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. An estimated 25 times a year, is the answer. Minister Dijkgraaf has not criticised the Education Executive Agency, but is going to see whether things could be done differently. “Actual case histories help us to identify problem areas”, he says. “That applies also to this case, which gives us cause to consider the deadlines in our legislation.”
The returning student took the case to court, but lost. He ought to have sent off the certificate within three months, although in practice the Education Executive Agency operates a deadline of five years. That should be enough, in the opinion of the court, so the consequences now lie at the student’s door. The student has appealed against the ruling.
Apparently, the Minister too has his doubts about that line. “I plan to examine the various deadlines in the law and whether they are still appropriate to the way we look at our citizens nowadays and at their capacity to act.”
Cannot the Education Executive Agency apply the hardship clause? GroenLinks also asked. After all, this student did precisely what the government asked of him: graduate within a reasonable period of time.
That is “theoretically possible”, Dijkgraaf confirms, but only if “the specific situation results in disproportionate consequences for the citizen”. The court saw no reason to apply the hardship clause, he adds.
The tone of his answer, however, suggests that it is nevertheless a little odd. He is still in discussion with the Education Executive Agency on the application of rules. “We’re discussing practical cases”, he tells GroenLinks. Discussions of this type can have different outcomes. Sometimes the regulations have to be changed, and sometimes the situation is so exceptional that a tailor-made solution is required.