UU students feel misled for not being allowed to study in the US anymore
Some students were already fully packed and ready to go on Friday, September 3, when an e-mail from the university arrived in their inbox at 5:30 pm, saying that, upon closer inspection, UU had decided to cancel the exchange. “We were told that something like this could happen if the travel advice went from yellow to orange before September 6. But, at the same time, we were advised to start arranging everything if the travel advice was green or yellow eight weeks prior to departure. I thought that the risk of getting a negative travel advice wasn't so high, considering more and more people are getting vaccinated,” explains Kayleigh, one of the students who feel duped. She was supposed to go to UC San Diego for three months for a minor in Computer Science. “Now the university says that they won’t compensate us for anything because we should have had a plan B.”
But a plan B wasn't feasible with such a late cancellation. All students intended to leave the Netherlands in the week of September 6. They had already secured their plane ticket, visa, housing and insurance. Those costs can mount to 5,000 euros and, in most cases, a refund is not possible. To add insult to injury, they cannot register for courses in Utrecht anymore, as the final registration date for Bachelor's, Master's and Minors courses is the 1st of September. Last but not least, some of those students have become homeless because they had already sublet their room.
Dutch students welcome in the US
The twenty affected students have now written a letter to UU's Executive Board, pleading for the university to reconsider the ban. “It looks like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is still allowing students to travel to the US with code orange. One of the universities from California has even issued a statement saying that Dutch students can come without any problems.” The ministry's website states that students may travel to the US to attend educational institutions under strict conditions. Moreover, the students argue that the American universities have strict safety measures: for example, the institutions require students to have received both doses of the vaccine to be admitted.
A bitter pill to swallow
UU recognises that the situation is an extremely bitter pill to swallow for the students. But they are not the only ones with such a fate: in the beginning of the summer, students who wanted to go to the UK received a similar message. The case of the students looking to go to the US is even more disappointing because the message arrived so shortly before their departure. “It was a difficult decision, but our policy is to follow the government's advice. That's what we've agreed upon with all universities. Being enroled in an institution is not seen as a guarantee that the student will travel,” says Marieke de Bakker, head of Student Affairs.
“The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that students are allowed to travel to the US because the country itself is allowing Dutch students to come," explains De Bakker. “That is different from the Dutch travel advice, although we admit that this can be confusing. Dutch students who are already in the US are advised to return, but that’s not obligatory. If they stay, they do so at their own risk”. Moreover, De Bakker stresses that the university has "put in a maximum effort to help these students with an alternative study plan, so that they are still able to follow courses. Solutions will be devised on a case-by-case basis.”
Financial compensation, however, is off the table. De Bakker: “We understand that it is very last minute. But if we help these students financially, we will have to do that for everyone whenever the code changes. We told the students about the risks of going on exchange during the pandemic from the beginning. If a student comes into financial problems, they can contact the study advisors, who can help them find fitting financial support.”