Why this petition?
‘It is mainly for the non-EU students. I’m from Cyprus myself, but have a Russian passport. I also pay the tuition fee for non-EU students, which is much higher than for students from within the European Union. The amount varies from 7000 to 14.000 euros. I’m a freelancer and pay my own tuition fees. In my case nine thousand euros a year. The corona crisis has a major impact on my freelance projects. It’s much more difficult to support myself during these times. Therefore it’s only fair to see whether the value of my education matches the tuition fees now that everything is completely online. Normally you pay around three times less for remote education than for a physical study at the university. Like all other foreign students, I didn’t come to the Netherlands for lessons over Skype. We’re mainly here for the offline facilities available to us. Now, with the corona crisis, we lose access to these facilities. That is why I’m asking for a partial refund of the tuition fees.’
What are the first reactions to the petition?
‘Responses came up much faster than I expected. Almost four hundred people have already signed the petition. Many international students are stuck with this situation. Still, people are afraid to express their displeasure. Asking for money or a reduction is simply an inconvenience. At the same time, I saw the discussion that arose in the comment section of my Facebook post about the topic. Not everyone agrees with my petition. I think a discussion on this topic is a good thing. I want to draw attention to all foreign students who are in this situation. Many people don’t understand our situation. For example, they don't know that we pay much higher tuition fees. I understand, of course, that we pay more in normal circumstances: we’re not taxpayers in the Netherlands. That is why we pay the institutional fee, which is much higher than the normal tuition fees for EU students. For foreign students, the university is ultimately just a company and we are the customers. The product is education. Now that education is fully digital, we are supplied with a different product. As a customer, I shouldn't have to pay for those costs.’
People worked very hard to get the online education done...
‘Don't get me wrong, I love my study and my teachers are great. I don’t want to attack my teachers or the UT with the petition. They are doing great. Because of them there is hardly any study delay for me. I want to make another point. The point for me is that the value of my studies through online education does not currently correspond to the amount I have to pay. But again: the university is doing great - most signatories will agree with that. I’m really positively surprised by the way the university manages this crisis.’
Much is still unclear about the development of the coronacrisis. Wouldn't it be wiser to wait a little longer with this petition?
‘There is an important reason why I’m already asking for the financial support. The repayment process will be a long one. I would like to start the discussion on this now. I want to show that non-EU students in the Netherlands are having a very hard time financially. They live from month to month. Students come from less wealthy countries such as India as well. They are supported by their whole family. They cannot return to their home country. This situation makes them very anxious. I just want to say with this petition: please, keep us in mind.’
What exactly do you want to achieve?
‘Firstly I would like to say that my initial wording in the petition may not be entirely right. It may be too demanding. All I really wanted was to ask for support for the group of non-EU students. I’m asking for recognition of our problems. I want to collect even more signatures in the coming days. I will then offer this petition to the university. My main message is: non-EU students are struggling financially because of the coronacrisis. Please keep that in mind.’
Response from the UT
Spokesperson Laurens van der Velde says he is familiar with the petition. He asks for understanding of all students. ‘They will get a form of education for a certain, hopefully limited, period that is different from what they had in mind at the beginning of this academic year. The current situation is also exceptional for the university. It is a situation that requires everyone, both lecturers and students, to make every effort to ensure that the knowledge and skills that suit their education are gathered. That requires extra effort and flexibility from everyone.’
‘We see that online education is going well, even though we have only been working with it for a week. We are now looking at where additional work still needs to be done to arrive at the best possible conditions. Options to make up for the lost time include: intensifying education, continuing for a longer period or offering some of the education after the summer. Any other discussion is premature and out of place now.’