In Onderwijsrecht

The corona crisis has had a major impact on students of institutions of higher education, namely the Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences (‘hogescholen’ and ‘universiteiten’). All institutions of higher education closed their doors on March 16th. Since then, almost all classes have been given online. For students this means that they are paying tuition fees without getting the education they were promised. Is it possible for students to claim compensation or restitution of tuition fees?

Institution tuition fees versus statutory tuition fees

Most Dutch and European students pay the statutory tuition fees (‘wettelijk collegegeld’). The level of statutory tuition fees is set by the government. For the academic year of 2020 – 2021 students will have to pay € 2.143,- in statutory tuition fees.

There are three situations in which students are not eligible for the statutory tuition fees ruling but instead have to pay the tuition fees as set by the university itself:

  • When a student does not have an EU-nationality and does not have a visa that entitles him to study finance;
  • When a student is registered at a private institution of higher education;
  • When a student (Dutch, EU or other) already has a diploma similar to the one he wishes to obtain.

For example: a Dutch student has already finished his bachelor’s Psychology and wishes to start with a bachelor’s Sociology in the coming September. This student will have to pay the institution tuition fees when registering for Sociology.

Schools can decide for themselves how much their institution tuition fees will be. A few examples are:

  • A bachelor’s degree at the Fontys Hogeschool costs between € 7.920,- and € 10.140,- per year;
  • A bachelor’s degree at the Haagse Hogeschool costs € 8.375,- per year;
  • A bachelor’s degree at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen costs on average € 15.000,- per year;
  • A master’s degree at the TU Delft costs € 18.750,- per year.

A four year bachelor’s degree at a University of Applied Sciences can quickly add up to € 40.560,- and a three year bachelor’s degree at a University to € 45.000,-. All the more important for students to get their money’s worth.

What are students entitled to in exchange for these tuition fees?

Someone who is registered as a student with an institution for higher education is entitled to certain facilities and services. According to the Higher Education and Research Act (the ‘Wet op het Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschappelijk onderzoek, also: ‘WHW’) a student:

  • has a right to partake in classes and receive education;
  • has a right to participate in exams;
  • can access the buildings of the school;
  • can use all facilities that are open to students, such as the library and the services of the study advisor;
  • is entitled to study support and guidance.

In other words: someone who is registered as a student can go to class, take exams, use the library and the university intranet, etc.

Right to restitution of a part of your tuition fees when receiving online education

If the quality of education and services offered (in exchange for paying the tuition fees) has gone down significantly it could be possible to claim restitution of tuition fees. A student is in that sense nothing more than a customer buying goods and services. If the goods and services do not meet the criteria as agreed upon, the customer (the student) can claim (part of) their money back. However, small shortcomings on the part of the school will most likely not be enough to warrant restitution. In other words: a library that is closed will not give a right to restitution. On the other hand: if a normal 30-hour a week class schedule is replaced by a 2-hour a week online seminar, this might be enough for a successful claim of restitution.

Right to compensation for study delays

Besides offering classes and services, universities are also obligated to ensure that students can finish their studies without a significant study delay. If a study delay is caused by the school, then the school will have to compensate the student.

Students who have suffered study delays because of corona might be able to claim compensation. These study delays must be caused by changes in the curriculum, cancellation of subjects or exams, etc. Delays caused by stress (caused by the corona crisis) will most likely not give a right to compensation or restitution.

More information

The above-mentioned shows that it is very dependent on a specific situation whether or not a student can potentially claim compensation or restitution. Are you a student paying institution tuition fees and have you (i) suffered study delays caused by corona and/or (ii) were hindered in your studies because of a lack of facilities or services? You can contact us free of charge and we will assess your situation. Mail to vandamme@honoreadvocaten.nl.