Students eligible for supplementary grant missing out on extra funding

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A surprising 25 percent of the students who are entitled to the so-called supplementary grant fail to apply for it. “Some of them just assume it’s a loan”, says Ama Boahene, Chair of the Dutch Student Union (LSVb). It is essential that the Dutch government improves the communication about the supplementary grant, especially now that a new bill has been proposed to increase the number of students eligible for the grant.

Read in Dutch

Most Dutch students and eligible European students have an idea of how the basic student grant works, but the terms and conditions of the so-called supplementary grant are less straightforward. In 2020, a study by the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (document in Dutch, Ed) showed that a quarter of the first-year university students who were eligible for a supplementary grant did not take advantage of it. Based on this percentage, the Education Implementation Service (DUO in the Dutch acronym) estimated that in 2021, some 33,000 students did not claim the supplementary grant even though they were entitled to it.

Ticking the box
Most of the students who do not make use of the supplementary grant are only entitled to a small sum (up to 49 euros). However, 12 percent of the students who qualify for the full amount (419 euros) also fail to apply for it. No recent figures are available on students’ failure to make use of the supplementary grant because DUO has no insight into how many students are actually eligible. The law stipulates that DUO can only request details about a student's income (or the income of their parents) after they have applied for the grant, which means the institution has no way of knowing how many eligible students fail to apply.

The application for a supplementary grant can be submitted through DUO, just like the application for a student grant. Once students have indicated that they would like to receive a supplementary grant, DUO checks whether they are entitled to it. In many cases, it is just a matter of ticking the box that says “supplementary grant”. And yet, this is something that many students choose not to do.

Lack of communication
Why is it that so many students refrain from applying for the supplementary grant, even though they do apply for the basic student grant? The most common reason for not applying, according to DUO, is that students do not need the supplementary grant. Other reasons include the fear of running up debt and problems encountered during the application procedure. According to the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, another possible explanation is that students might not be aware of the supplementary grant’s existence or of their entitlement to it. This was confirmed by the results of the Nibud Student Survey (available in Dutch only). A quarter of the surveyed higher education students did not check whether they are eligible for the supplementary grant. Of this group, 27 percent said they did not know they could apply for a supplementary grant.

LSVb Chair Ama wants to see the government improve its communication about what the grant entails and its eligibility criteria. “A significant number of students are currently missing out on the supplementary grant despite the fact that they are entitled to it. DUO should actively approach these students. Young people should be informed about this the moment they decide to start their studies. In fact, DUO should even make it standard practice for students to apply for the grant.”

Student Counsellor Peters agrees that DUO should always check whether a student is entitled to a supplementary grant, as a matter of standard procedure. “Most of the options are pre-set as default nowadays, so why not the application for the supplementary grant as well? Now, students have to tick a box if they want to apply for the supplementary grant, but this box should be ticked by default. This also works for the public transport chip card; everyone has one. So why doesn’t it work the same way for the supplementary grant?”

On top of the basic student grant
Ama thinks the supplementary grant is generally a good concept, but she thinks it is a shame that only a few students can apply for it right now. “The amount of money you receive from the supplementary grant decreases very quickly if your parents earn a reasonable income. Moreover, the current income thresholds are too high. It’s important that students who come from middle-income families receive more compensation, as they usually don’t receive a lot of financial support from their parents.”

The draft bill that was published online on April 23 establishes that more students will be eligible for the supplementary grant. The supplementary grant will be offered in addition to the basic student grant, which will be reinstated in the academic year 2023-2024.

The new bill states that the maximum sum of the supplementary grant is 401.34 euros, slightly lower than the amount of money students currently receive through the loan system (419.04 euros). Students are entitled to the full supplementary grant if their parents earn less than 34,600 euros per year, which was also the case under the loan system and the previous basic student grant system. Both the supplementary grant and the basic student grant are converted into a gift if the student graduates within a term of ten years.

A new aspect introduced by the bill is that students whose parents earn a middle-income salary (up to 70,000 euro per year) will now also be eligible to receive a supplementary grant. The previous plan was to use 53,900 as the limit. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 additional students will now be able to obtain a supplementary grant. The bill had to fit within the budget of one billion euro, which is why the maximum amount of the supplementary grant has been slightly reduced. The aim was to ensure that students from families with the lowest incomes would not have their supplementary grants reduced. Evidently, this was not possible.

Supplementary grant for students in conflict with parents
The supplementary grant is not only available to students from lower-income families, but also to students who have lost contact with their parents. However, they must be able to prove it. As a Student Counsellor, Frank Peters helps these students apply for the supplementary grant. He also draws up statements for DUO in which he assesses whether the application is plausible. These cases often involve very serious disputes with the parents. “It really has to be an irreconcilable conflict,” says Peters. “It’s not enough if the student’s parents don’t approve of their child’s choice of study programme and therefore refuse to pay their tuition fees.”

Proving that such a conflict exists can be hard. “It’s easier for students who haven’t seen their parents since they were twelve,” says Peters, “but in other cases, it can be very complicated. You need divorce certificates and statements from the mother or father. It can be a very emotional process. Sometimes you have to say that you never want to see your parents again. That’s a hard thing to do.”

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