Student - May 22, 2012

State advocate denies existence of part-time degrees

In the lawsuit about the slow student fine that has just ended, the state advocate claims that there is no such thing as a part-time degree. There are only part-time students, he says.

The judges look surprised when he makes this claim, while the students in the public gallery start to laugh. More than a hundred students have come to follow the proceedings and they do not want to miss a thing. Only one or two pop out during the proceedings for a coffee or sandwich.

The judges ask the state advocate about the students who are taking a six-year part-time course and have to pay the excess tuition fees of three thousand euros for slow students after four years. These students are not slow at all but still have to pay the slow student fine.

The judge asks: 'How does this relate to the objective of discouragement discussed here?' Are students in this category taking too long to complete their studies? Or can they all claim financial support from their university's graduation fund?

The state advocate starts to flounder. Eventually he says: 'There is no such thing as a part-time study.' So the same rules apply to these students as to all other students. They can only claim support from a graduation fund if there are exceptional circumstances such as an illness or a committee position.

'You are behaving as if there are no part-time degrees!' remarks another judge somewhat irritably. The lawyer representing the students is also quick to produce a strong counterargument: the degrees register shows whether a degree is part-time or full-time.

At first the state advocate qualifies his answer but later he returns to his original opinion: legally there are part-time students but no part-time degrees.

'But part-time degrees are being offered?' asks the judge just to be sure. 'That is true', admits the state advocate but he says that is the choice of the individual institutes. In principle part-time degrees can be completed just as quickly as full-time degrees. Institutions that offer six-year part-time courses on their own initiative should take a good look at the rules for their graduation funds. Students taking six-year degrees may be able to claim support from that fund, warns the state advocate, because the 'study feasibility is insufficient' for their degree.

The lawyers swap familiar arguments during the proceedings. Students could not have foreseen the slow student fine, say the lawyers representing the students. Yes they could, says the state advocate, because it was clear from the coalition agreement. In fact, it was clear from earlier bills tending in that direction such as that dealing with the right to government-funded education.

Does the legislation violate the right of property because students were able to assume lower tuition fees? The students say it does, the state says it does not. And are transitional rules required? Yes, say the students. The state thinks such transitional rules are not necessary at all, and anyway there was a transitional rule: the measure was postponed for a year.

What about the loan students can take out to pay the fine? That is not compensation, say the students, because you still have to pay. But the state thinks higher education remains accessible and that this is the key thing.

The court will pass judgement on 25 July or earlier if possible.