Students protested until they were blue in the face but it did not help much: this summer, the Upper House passed the 'tardy student' bill. What exactly are slow students facing?
How much extra time am I allowed?
One year for your Bachelor's degree and one year for your Master's degree. You are not allowed to save up these extra years or carry them forward.
Will the new rules apply to me as well?
They certainly will. Current students who are already behind with their studies will have to make sure they have graduated by September 2012. The student organizations ISO (Dutch National Students' Association), LSVb (national students' union) and LKvV (National Chamber of Student Societies) are going to court to fight the new rules but no-one should assume they will win their case and get the act abolished.
If I spend too long on my Bachelor's degree, will that affect the time I have for my Master's?
No. However much students get behind in the Bachelor's phase, they always begin their Master's degree with a clean slate. They will only have to get worried again if they get into problems with their dissertation. Master's students are allowed one year extra. The Cabinet works on the basis of whole academic years and rounds off upwards. So a student following an eighteen-month Master's degree programme is allowed to take three years. This is the same amount of time as students doing a two-year Master's programme, which is relatively common for science subjects. Wageningen University compensates students doing a two-year social science Master's degree for the 'tardy student' fine.
Will students switching to another university also have to pay the 'tardy student' fine?
Possibly. According to the Cabinet, six-month pre-Master programmes for students switching to another university are still part of the Bachelor's phase, so students will have to use their extra year for this. Students who have taken five years to complete their university of applied science Bachelor's or four years to complete their academic university Bachelor's will have no extra time left. In that case, they will have to pay a fine on top of the standard tuition fees. That fine is fifteen hundred euros rather than three thousand euros as the pre-Master programme only lasts half a year. The Cabinet considers a pre-Master programme of more than thirty credits to be an abridged second Bachelor's degree. Universities are then allowed to charge as much as they want in tuition fees, but the 'tardy student' act does not apply to such degrees.
But I'm a part-time student. How long do I have for my degree?
You get the same amount of time as full-time students. Even if the university spreads a three-year degree programme out over six years, Zijlstra does not take that into account. As far as he is concerned, part-time students should complete their studies just as quickly as full-time students. So students doing a Bachelor's degree part time get the same number of years as for the full-time Bachelor's.
Might I be an exception?
Disabled students get one extra year, but they are not allowed to split it up: i.e. they have to use it either for their Bachelor's degree or for their Master's. Students in other 'exceptional circumstances' (e.g. sickness, pregnancy, maternity leave, bereavement in the family) will have to apply to their own university and simply hope that their fine will be paid from the 'graduation fund'. Universities are required to come up with rules for the financial support of non-standard categories of students.
What about students on committees?
Who knows? Anne-Wil Lucas, a Member of Parliament for the VVD (liberal party), actually wants full-time student society committee members and student members of university councils to be exempt from tuition fees. They should be allowed to deregister so that their year on a committee does not count towards the 'tardy student' fine. She is working with student organizations on a plan for this but the State Secretary is not very enthusiastic. According to him, you should combine your committee work with your studies or save it for your one permitted extra year. So for the time being, committee members will just have to register with their university and pay tuition fees.
Will I be allowed more time if I combine two degrees?
No. The State Secretary thinks an 'excellent student' should be capable of doing two degrees simultaneously without too many delays. A student who finishes one degree and then starts on a second (Bachelor's followed by Bachelor's, Master's followed by Master's) will have to pay the much higher university-specific tuition fees. The 'tardy student' act no longer applies in that case.
Will I still keep my basic grant?
Here we are skating on thin ice as the plans for university funding still have to be discussed by the Lower House. At any rate, the Cabinet no longer wants to give Master's students a basic grant; they will have to take out a loan from now on.
And my public transport student pass?
Students get a free public transport pass for the nominal duration of their degree programme plus their first extra year. So anyone who took a year extra for the Bachelor's phase and then gets behind again in the Master's phase will lose their free public transport pass even though they will not immediately be liable for the higher tuition fees. This is due to be incorporated in the legislation in the autumn.
And if I switch degree subject?
If you have second thoughts a few months into your first year at university, you will have wasted one of your extra years. The new degree programme will have to be completed precisely on time to avoid the 'tardy student' fine.
Is it really a fine?
It is illegal to drive faster than 120 km/h on the motorway. If you do so anyway, you will get a fine. But it is not illegal to take a long time completing your degree - anyone can register with the university - which is why Zijlstra prefers to talk about increased tuition fees rather than a fine. The opposition takes a different view.