Students with an impairment have more study costs than ‘normal’ students, and they often pay from their own pocket, says Lydia Vlagsma from Ieder(in). This makes higher education less accessible for them, and that must change.
What extra costs do students with an impairment have?
“These can vary considerably. The use of medication or blood tests may mean them exceeding their annual excess. Or their studies may be delayed due to their illness. But there are also visually impaired students who need a special type of textured paper so that they can feel what the graph they are drawing looks like. That’s much more expensive than a normal pack of paper.”
Minister Dijkgraaf has 1 billion euros to spend on the basic grant and the supplementary grant. The House is debating this on Monday. Won’t that benefit students with an impairment too?
“In principle, it will benefit all students, so also those with an impairment. But they incur extra costs and that should be compensated. They are entitled to an individual student allowance if they can’t work alongside their study, but that’s not enough to cover the costs.”
From today, that individual student allowance is the same in all municipalities: 300 euros for students aged 21 and over and 150 euros for students aged 18. Is that good news?
“We’re happy about that, because the allowance is now going up in 170 municipalities. However, it’s really sad for students who had to make do with less in the past. And for 18-year-olds, 150 euros is still very little, because according to the CBS, an 18-year-old student earns around 345 euros a month.”
In some municipalities, the student allowance was higher. Will that be less now?
“We were worried about that, but this week we heard that it involves ‘minimum amounts’ and that municipalities can go above them. I don’t expect that they will lower the allowance.”
Shouldn’t the student allowance be made dependent on the income of the parents? That would mean a higher allowance for students who need it more.
“That allowance exists because they can’t take a part-time job alongside their study. It would be weird to make it dependent on the parents’ income. At the supermarket, you earn just as much filling shelves as your peers, even if your parents have more money. And there’s already the supplementary grant, which does depend on the parents’ income. That’s there for students with and without an impairment.”
According to Ieder(in), students with an impairment don’t know how to get the financial help that is available. Does that relate to the findability or to how much they need the grant?
“It means that it’s a massive obstacle course. Ill students already have less energy and need to ‘manage’ their illness on other levels. Like hospital visits, planning appointments and organising support at school. They really can’t take on anything else. There are also too many helpdesks. For student loans and supplementary grants, students need to apply to DUO. But for the individual student allowance, they need to apply to their municipality. Some municipal employees don’t know that and send them back to DUO. A solution might be to bring everything under DUO.”
What would you like to see?
“I feel the dream would be to get rid of all those individual money pots and create an inclusive financing system, in which you can indicate what extra costs you incur due to your impairment and ensure that these are covered. That might mean being able to pause their studies or take longer over them. Extra costs should not be an obstacle for students with an impairment to go and study.”
Won’t it then be too easy to commit fraud?
“Some costs are easy to see, such as the excess and health insurance premiums. But you can’t eliminate fraud. If you focus too much on control, you end up in a kind of benefits scandal. Then you find checks more important than whether someone can make ends meet. I think that there will be fewer cases of abuse than the number of students who now don’t get enough money. The question is then: which do you think is worse?”