For years, students attending the part-time Business Administration master programme and Finance & Investments Advanced master programme were required to fork out 17,000 and 10,000 euro, respectively. These tuition fees are considerably higher than the maximum amount of 2,060 euro that state-funded programmes are allowed to charge, concluded the Dutch Inspectorate of Education in early 2018. Programmes may only deviate from this norm if the student in question already has a master’s degree or is from outside the EU.

Stingy

According to Education Minister Van Engelshoven, the students should get their money back. She called on the university to set up a compensation scheme to this end. Erasmus University has only partially heeded her call: Finance students are entitled to a 25% refund on their tuition fee, while Business Administration students can ask back half.

The SP asked the Minister whether this so-called ‘courtesy scheme’ wasn’t a bit stingy. Van Engelshoven refrained to comment. “Neither the inspectorate nor I are allowed to determine the details of the compensation scheme – we can’t impose anything,” was her response. Although she did reiterate that Erasmus University had been in breach of the law.

Which is why some 160 students have now taken the matter into their own hands. If EUR doesn’t come with a better offer, they see no alternative but to take the university to court. The law firm of Stadermann Luiten is conferring with university administrators to avoid proceedings.

Compelled

But it could actually take more than a year before a case yields a ruling. Isn’t there anything Van Engelshoven could have done to avoid this circuitous route? No: there’s not much the Minister can do for the students, according to Professor of Education Law Paul Zoontjens (Tilburg University). “This concerns a legal relationship between students and the institution. She isn’t allowed to settle on the university’s behalf.” If EUR refuses to reach an understanding, it may have to be compelled by a court decision.

According to Zoontjens, Van Engelshoven could have imposed financial penalties, since the university was in breach of the law. But that wouldn’t have been much use to the students.

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