News - March 8, 2012

Tuition fee waiver for Wageningen board members?

Wageningen students may soon be able to spend a year helping to run a student society without fear of the ‘Halbe fine'. At least Wageningen University has not ruled this out in advance, as the Radboud University in Nijmegen has done. Enough to give Student Council party VeSte hope.

‘Wageníngen owes much of its appeal as a student town to its societies.'
The idea came from MPs Anne-Wil Lucas (conservative VVD) and Boris van der Ham (liberal D66). They think State Secretary for Education Halbe Zijlstra's fine targeting slow students must not be allowed to squeeze the life out of student organizations, many of which have enough trouble recruiting people to run them already. So at the end of February they submitted an amendment saying that students doing fulltime board work for a society should be allowed to suspend their studies for one year. Then they would not have to pay tuition fees, and the year would not count towards a possible fine for taking extra time to graduate.
It is expected that a majority in the lower house of parliament will vote for the amendment and this regulation will come into force. But it will be up to universities to decide for themselves whether to implement the regulation. And there's the rub, because the Radboud University in Nijmegen has already made it known that it will not introduce a tuition-free year for society board members. Will Wageningen students be luckier? For the present, the university is keeping its cards close to its chest. Only when the details of the proposal become clearer will the university examine whether, and if so, how it wants to go about it, says policy staff member Liesbeth van der Linden.
No free public transport
A cautious attitude, but nevertheless cause for optimism among Wageningen societies. The Student Council is happy that the university has not dismissed the plan in advance, as Nijmegen has done. ‘It does cost the institution money, after all', says Sanne Mirck, who represents VeSte on the Student Council. ‘The university misses out on tuition fees whereas it does provide grants for board members out of the student support fund.' Nevertheless, Mirck hopes that a different decision will be made in Wageningen, as Wageningen owes much of its appeal as a student town to its societies. Even if tuition fees are waived, it will not mean that life is a bed of roses for student society boards. On the contrary, they will not have free public transport for that year, nor will they be eligible for loans from DUO. So VeSte would rather see The Hague making more far-reaching adjustments to the ruling. There is also no clarity yet on whether the Wageningen society board members would be allowed to continue using university facilities such as computers, rooms and the Bongerd sports centre. Mirck: ‘VeSte would very much appreciate it if board members still had access to these things.'