“The student financial support fund is a fund that allows us, the university, to offer financial support to students who fall behind in their studies due to extenuating circumstances,” explains Rianne Nieuwdorp, a Teaching and Student Affairs policy officer. “For instance, when they’re on the board of a student organisation, are elite athletes or have functional impairment.”
EUR’s student financial aid fund holds about €1.6 million. At present, 38 students, including a few with functional impairments, receive a ‘force majeure’ grant. That number is rather low when you realise that EUR has an estimated 1,500 students with functional impairment. “However, the student financial support fund only awards grants to students who have actually fallen behind in their studies,” Nieuwdorp explains. “So in a way, the number is not related to the overall number of students with impairments.”
Not the best solution
According to the study carried out by the Dutch Education Inspectorate, information on the various universities’ student financial support funds is hard to find and isn’t always very clear, either. As a result, many students miss out on financial support. Therefore, the Inspectorate calls on tertiary education institutions’ executive boards to provide proper information.
Counsellor Marlijn Timmermans-Muller is all in favour of this. However, she believes the low number of grant applications may not be due to poor information, but rather due to the Fund’s rules. “For instance, you must fall behind in your studies during your first four years at uni,” says Timmermans-Muller. “I’ve encountered a few cases in which students who had previously attended a university of applied sciences fell behind in their pre-Master’s programme due to poor health or mental health issues. However, since they had used up their four years, they were no longer eligible for financial support from the student financial support fund.” In such cases, students may have to turn to other sources for financial support, such as private funds.
Sometimes the student financial support fund is not the best solution for students who have fallen behind in their studies. “The first thing we counsellors do is to see if we can arrange anything with DUO. Depending on how far they have fallen behind, students can ask DUO to be granted one additional year’s student finance,” says Timmermans-Muller. “This option often works out better for them than the student financial support fund, because they also get to keep their OV chip card (a smartcard that allows students to travel on public transport for free – ed.) for another year.”
Collaboration with study advisors
“When students first embark on their degree, we always tell them what types of support are available to students at the university – for instance, at an information evening,” says Timmermans-Muller. “But during Year 1, we don’t provide a lot of in-depth information on the student financial support fund, because the information typically isn’t relevant yet at that stage.”
Nieuwdorp confirms this. “When you first embark on your degree, you have no idea if you’ll ever need this fund. Generally speaking, students don’t realise they have mental health issues or learning disorders until they’re well into their degree. For this reason, we seek to post this information on EUR’s website in a way that makes it easy to find.”
They also get the study advisors involved in the process. “A few times a year we’ll meet with the study advisors to keep them posted on the latest news and the options open to their students,” says Timmermans-Muller. “In this way we seek to give study advisors the information they need, so that they can then refer their students to the fund in their turn.”
Apply for an arrangement through your study advisor
The student financial support fund also helps out EUR’s international students. “But we must stress that international students are only eligible for financial support in a limited number of situations. For instance, it depends on their residency status in the Netherlands,” says Timmermans-Muller.
Students can apply for financial support directly through a counsellor. “But I would appreciate it if they went through their study advisor, anyway,” says Timmermans-Muller. “In this way, everyone will be aware of their grant application, and the study advisors can help them find a solution for the degree-related aspects.”
Prevention is better than cure
In addition, Nieuwdorp feels that the help students receive should focus on preventing students from falling behind in their studies. “We provide alternative methods that may help students with functional impairment, such as additional support by the study advisor and the lecturers, thus preventing them from falling behind in their studies.”
In the meantime, Timmermans-Muller is working on a project designed to make EUR a better place for students with functional impairment, both in terms of facilities and in terms of procedures. “In association with the Functional Impairments Student Panel, I’m trying to find a way that will allow students with impairment to easily take all the steps necessary if they need help.” The Panel also wants greater consistency between the various faculties. “Meaning that, if you’re an ESL student who is taking a minor at ESE, you won’t have to tell everyone all over again who you are and what kind of problems you have. Instead your file will be transferred from one faculty to the next.”