From next academic year, a lot is going to change for Dutch students, and Master's students are going to be especially hard hit. A fine on slow students is being introduced and the basic grant is being replaced with a student loan system. The right to a free public transport card will be held for a shorter time too. Students can expect to run up higher debts.
A Master's student who applies for a basic grant after 1 August 2012 will be offered a loan. This will apply even to those who have already started on a Master's programme. For students living away from home, this adds about 3,200 euros to the costs of studying; for those living at home it adds about 1,200 euros. Wageningen is particularly hard hit by these measures, as all the Master's degrees here are two year programmes.
What about the means-related supplementary grant?
The supplementary grant will continue for the duration of the Master's, but then it stops. So those getting a supplementary grant during their Bachelor's will go on getting it during their Master's.
Until when will students have free public transport cards?
Cuts are being made here too. Up to now, students got a public transport pass for the duration of their studies (Bachelor's and Master's) plus three more years. From September 2012, that will be cut down to their student years plus one year.
When does someone incur a slow student fine?
This is perhaps the government's most notorious new measure. Students will incur a fine if they are more than one year late in finishing their Bachelor's or Master's degrees. The fine is a little over 3,000 euros per year and has to be paid by all slow students from September 2012.
Will those doing a Master's in the Social Sciences incur extra hefty debts?
These Masters' are seen by the government as one-year programmes, not as two-year programmes. Luckily, the university is going to compensate students for the first fine of 3,000 euros, partly thanks to the campaigning of the student council. One small disappointment: the university will not be compensating students for the loss of the free public transport pass.
So how big a debt are Dutch students likely to run up?
It depends of course how long they take over their degrees, and where they live. In the best case scenario, you graduate on schedule and you live at home. Then you only need to borrow for two years, and your total debt will be about 2,400 euros. In the worst case scenario, you live out, you are doing social sciences and you take two years extra over both your Bachelor's and your Master's. Then you'll pay the fine twice and you have to borrow even more during the extension period on your Bachelor's and for the whole of your Master's. That means six years. Your debt will be roughly 25,200 euros. Add to that the fact that you have to pay for public transport during the last four years, and that you'll have to pay interest (albeit low) on the whole loan. If your name is Maxime Verhagen [Dutch minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, ed.] and you spend ten years studying history, you'll just have to hope you'll earn enough to pay off your debt of 43,600 euros within the maximum term of 20 years.