No tuition fee reduction, despite appeal from the University Council

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The memorandum is a response to the council’s inquiry from October 26, asking whether the students of University College Utrecht could get part of their tuition fees back because of the pandemic. UCU’s tuition fees are higher because they also include the costs of housing and facilities on campus -- however, since most of the education is taking place online this year, students aren’t actually using the facilities.

The Council also wondered if other students could receive a tuition waiver, such as those who suffered some kind of economic blow. Lastly, the Council wanted to know if the tuition fees would be increased this year at all.

Determined by law
The answer to that last question came fast: the statutory tuition fee is determined by law. Universities are not allowed to charge below the amount set by the government. What they can do, however, is change the institutional fees, which are defined by the university itself and charged from non-European students, those pursuing a second degree, the students from the university colleges in Utrecht and Middelburg, and those in the Philosophy, Politics & Economics programme. The university may alter the institutional fees as it sees fit, as long as they're not lower than the statutory tuition fee.

But the Executive Board sees no reason to reduce the institutional fee to compensate students for the absence of physical classes or study delays caused by corona. For the latter, an agreement has been made with the Ministry of Education establishing that, in some cases, students may receive a compensation of 535 euro, which corresponds to a third of the statutory tuition fee. The Association of Dutch Universities, VSNU, has also made allowance agreements for students from outside the European Union whose studies were delayed because of the pandemic. Some of them may be exempt from paying part of their tuition fees.

No more side jobs
What about students who lost their side job because of corona? That’s not the university’s business, replied the Executive Board, noting that it is the government’s job to aid students who are struggling to make ends meet. For example, the Minister of Education has granted a one-off allowance of 1500 euro to students whose supplementary grant expired this summer, not to mention that students in acute financial need can turn to the University Fund.

Is online education subpar?
The memorandum also addressed the argument that online education is of lesser quality than regular, physical education. The Executive Board finds it difficult to say whether this is the case, but even if it were, the university would still need to be careful when dealing with the situation.

The Board expressed concern about connecting price with quality, which would equate the university to a consumer product and possibly lead to a “money-back guarantee” mentality. Besides, where to draw the line? Should students get a refund if they’re not happy with their thesis supervisor, for example?

In addition, the Board stressed that the statutory fee by no means covers the actual costs of education, which are closer to the value of the institutional fee. Last but not least, the university’s costs have not decreased during the coronavirus crisis – on the contrary.

The institutional rate for non-EEA students is even higher than the fee charged from European students pursuing a second degree. That’s an important source of income for the university to cover the costs of education, the Board said, stressing that the rate is in line with the market and therefore cannot be adjusted so easily. If UU would like to change it, it would first have to consult the fellow institutions, which have their own set of rules.

The first requests to reduce the tuition fee were made right before the summer, when student party UUinActie called for a discount during a University Council meeting. A petition asking for the tuition to be cut in half soon followed, having been signed by over 1900 students, who called online education “an expensive streaming service.”