Students studying in the Netherlands are entitled to study finance. Along with Dutch students, students from other EU countries are also eligible, provided they are working in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, to save costs, DUO is making it difficult for EU students to get the study finance. DUO misinforms students about the requirements by telling students that they are only eligible if they work at least 56 hours each month. This is contrary to European Union law. DUO also puts students through time-consuming proceedings by frequently asking for a lot of different documents and delaying the application process for EU students. Well-informed EU students have not been discouraged and have been winning numerous court cases against DUO the past few years.
The Right to Dutch Student Finance of EU Students Studying in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, we believe secondary education should be available to everyone who has the capacity to complete it, regardless of social background. Studying should not only be for the children of the rich, such is the overwhelming consensus here. Along with subsidized tuition fees, study finance is the primary driver of affordable studies in the Netherlands. Thanks to the European Union, Dutch study finance is also available for students from other EU countries.
This article delves into the system of Dutch student finance and the rights of EU students. If you are already sufficiently informed and wish to file an application or an objection we advise to use the table of contents to navigate to the end of this article.
In 1918, Europe lay in ruins, its infrastructure and population having been devastated by the First World War and the Spanish Flu. On a continent of people looking for a new way forward, free from the royal and authoritarian elites that had plunged them into the Great War, socialism swept the continent like a tide. Even though socialism took a decisive hold only in eastern Europe, the entire continent saw socialist uprisings. In the Netherlands, socialist influences led to the 48-hour work week, women’s suffrage and gift based student finance. Even though the system was changed from a gift-based system to a loan-based system five years after its introduction, the student finance was destined to stay.
Whereas the First World War had left the Netherlands relatively unscathed, the country bore the full brunt of World War II. After the war the Netherlands faced the challenge of rebuilding the country. In this new era of industrialisation and high-end services, this required well-educated personnel. For this reason, the Dutch government introduced an extra grant for parents with children in higher education in 1953.
From 1986 onwards the recipient of this grant was to be the student, rather than the parents. This was meant to make the students more independent from their parents. The size of the grant was related to the income of the students’ parents. This was meant to help those students in particular whose parents could not support them financially in their studies, and who might otherwise not be able to afford higher education.
Because of an ever-growing number of students in higher education, plans were drafted to return to a loan-based system. These changes were implemented per September 2015. Instead of receiving a student grant, students can now take out a student loan from the government at near-zero interest rates. The part of the grant that was reserved for students with low-income parents remains a grant, which does not have to be paid back. Although support for this return to a loan-based system has significantly decreased over the past few years, no new legislation is currently in the making.
The current system of Dutch student finance has been laid down in the Dutch Student Finance Act of 2000 (Dutch: Wet studiefinanciering 2000). In the remainder of this article we will refer to this law by its short title: ‘Wsf 2000’.
According to the Wsf 2000, student finance consists of the following elements:
The basic loan is the part that used to be a gift before 2015, and is currently a zero interest loan. Students can decide whether or not they would like to make use of the basic loan, this is optional. Students that choose to make use of the basic loan can set the amount of the loan that they wish to receive on a monthly basis, up to a maximum of € 494,39 per month. This basic loan has to be paid back after your right to study finance ends.
Repayment starts January 1st of the third year after your right to student finance ends.
The Dutch government assumes that there are always three parties that contribute financially to the life and study expenses of a student. The student, his/her parents and the government. In some cases however, the parents have a low income and are therefore less able or unable to provide their studying child with financial support.
These students may benefit from the supplementary grant. This grant is a gift, provided the student completes his/her studies within 10 years from starting. Whether or not the student qualifies for this grant depends on the combined income of his/her parents.
The limits are based on Dutch standards. This roughly means that a combined yearly gross parental income of € 50.000 or less is considered a low income. Students whose parents together earn less than this amount qualify for the supplementary grant. Students from other European countries often benefit greatly from this, as the incomes in these countries are often lower than they are in the Netherlands, which means it is more likely their parents have an income below this threshold. The fact that the cost of living is also lower in these countries is not taken into account.
The amount of the grant depends on the exact income of the parents (the lower the income, the higher the grant). The grant is also higher for students with brothers and sisters. The following figures should give a rough indication:
Combined Parental Yearly Income Monthly Supplementary Grant
€ 50.000 € 50
€ 40.000 € 240
€ 30.000 € 400
The tuition fee loan is meant specifically for students to be able to cover their tuition fees. The loan always runs exactly to the full amount of the regulated tuition fee. This changes every year. The tuition fee for the 2019-2020 college year is € 2.083. For the 2020-2021 college year it’s € 2.143.
European students are always eligible for this regulated tuition fee. Non-European students often pay the ‘instellingscollegegeld’ (non-regulated tuition fee). These fees run from € 10.000 for the most common studies, to over € 20.000 for studies in medical fields. The tuition fee loan is never more than the regulated tuition fee for that year.
The student travel product was introduced in 1991. This was met with significant resistance from students. Their grants were lowered to make room in the budget for the student travel product. Since many students lived with their parents and close to university, they were going to lose a part of their grant in return for a travel product they did not need.
In addition, it was common practice for students to hitchhike in these times. Universities often had specific locations set up for hitchhikers, somewhat akin to a bus stop. In 1996 there were suggestions to repeal the student travel card and go back to the old system. This again caused protests as now students did not want to go back to the old system anymore.
The current student travel product exists in two versions. The week subscription and the weekend subscription. The week subscription allows students to travel freely at any time, except in weekends (Saturday 4 AM – Monday 4 AM) and during the holidays. The weekend subscription is almost the reverse, allowing travel in the weekends (Friday noon – Monday 4 AM) and holidays.
The student travel product is available for all students, regardless of their parental income and grants free access to second class train, trams and subways, buses and some water transport.
Students are eligible if they meet all of the following criteria.
We will discuss these requirements in reverse order.
Only students registered for studies in secondary vocational education (MBO) or higher education are eligible for student finance. Higher education are studies at an Universiteit (University) or a Hogeschool (University of Applied Sciences). Only students registered for a full time degree are eligible.
A list of the institutes of higher educations that qualify can be found by clicking here. There are other private institutions of higher education in the Netherlands. Students at some of these private institutions are eligible for student finance. If you are registered with one of these private institutions, you may consult with your university to see if you might be eligible.
Children below the age of 18 are not eligible to receive student finance. Their parents receive child support benefits which are meant to cover, among other things, expenses related to the child’s education. As soon as the child turns 18, he or she will be eligible for study finance, provided of course that they also meet the other requirements. The student finance will start the month after the month in which the child turned 18. This means turning 18 on October 3rd will make the student eligible for study finance from November onwards. Students who enroll in higher education are eligible right from the start of their education, even if they have not yet turned 18.
Eligibility for student finance ends when the student turns 30. If the student is already receiving student finance at that point and continues his/her studies without interruptions, the student will retain his/her right to study finance.
In principle, only students with the Dutch nationality are eligible for Dutch study finance. It is a Dutch social service, paid for with the tax money of Dutch residents. However, under certain circumstances, foreign students can be entitled to equal treatment with Dutch students. When that is the case, these foreign students are equally entitled to Dutch study finance. The most important groups of foreign students that qualify are refugees and students from within the European Union.
Refugees who have been granted a residence permit are eligible for student finance on equal footing with Dutch students. Provided that they are enrolled with a qualified institution for education and meet the age requirement, they will receive the student finance just as Dutch students would.
Refugees who have not (yet) been granted a residence permit (asylum seekers) are allowed to enroll for education in the Netherlands, but generally do not qualify for study finance. There are several private initiatives, such as the Stichting voor Vluchteling-Studenten (The Foundation for Refugee-Students, click here to visit their website), that support refugees and asylum seekers who are looking to study in the Netherlands.
As the Dutch government agency in charge of study finance, you would think DUO is specialized in paying study finance. However, when it comes to EU students, DUO is specialized in not paying study finance. Here is how DUO makes life difficult for European students.
DUO provides the following information for EU students on its website:
You qualify for student finance if you meet 1 of the following requirements:
DUO asks students to provide them with the following proof:
Working in the Netherlands with a permanent, fixed-term (temporary) or stand-by contract
If you have an employment contract yourself:
If your Non-Dutch parent has an employment contract:
If your Non-Dutch partner has an employment contract:
Check hours worked
DUO checks regularly if you, your parent or partner worked for at least 56 hours a month.
Most European students in the Netherlands fall within the second category: they are employed in the Netherlands themselves. Because of their time-consuming studies, students mostly choose part-time jobs. Since most students do not have any previous degrees, they mostly work low-end jobs in retail or in catering and hospitality services. Unfortunately, with current labor market pressures, these contracts are increasingly uncertain. Many employers are offering only limited time contracts, with flexible working hours.
This makes it increasingly difficult for students to meet the 56-hour criterium set by DUO. DUO is keenly aware of this and actively pursues all European students after they have received student finance, for proof of meeting the 56 hour criterium every single month.
Any student reading this article will be relieved from this burden of the 56-hour criterium once and for all, as they will learn that legally speaking, it does not exist.
European students who work in the Netherlands are entitled to equal treatment. This is not because DUO or the Dutch government is so nice and generous to European students. Quite the contrary: European students are entitled to equal treatment under European law and DUO is doing everything in its power to prevent European students from exercising this right.
The European Union was originally a peace project, not an economic project. The Union was meant to make the countries of the Union more interconnected and more interdependent. The idea was that increased cooperation would foster greater mutual understanding, and increased economic ties would make countries more dependent upon one another. If your economy depends on trade with your neighbour, you are much less likely to go to war with that neighbour.
Economic integration was therefore a means to an end. The aim was to create a lasting peace on the continent. Economic integration was one of the tools used to realize it. Over the years, the economic integration has become very deep. Virtually all direct and indirect trade barriers have been removed. To understand the magnitude of this achievement one has only to look at trade barriers outside of the EU. In India, for example, tariffs on the import and export of goods exist between Indian states. The European Union is more economically integrated than India!
One element to the economic integration is the free movement of persons. Just as goods should be able to be imported and exported across borders without extra costs, so persons should be able to find employment in another country, without any disadvantages arising from the fact that they have a different nationality. Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union specifies:
In short, this article guarantees that workers within the European Union will be treated equally, regardless of their nationality. This also means that all workers are entitled to the same benefits and social services, regardless of their nationality. So what does it take to qualify as a worker, and enjoy the protection of the treaty? The European Court of Justice has ruled many times that there are three criteria for this:
The court has further clarified that:
From these judgments it is obvious that students who are employed in the Netherlands qualify for study finance, even if they have an on-call contract for a limited amount of time and do not make enough money to pay for all of life’s expenses.
Nevertheless, the biggest group of EU students that work in the Netherlands decide never to apply for the study finance at all. These students read the information provided by DUO and see that they have to work at least 56 hours per month. A lot of students cannot meet this requirement because of their part-time or irregular hour contracts and decide not to apply, because they believe that they do not work enough hours to be eligible for the study finance.
So if the European Court of Justice has ruled that there is no minimum hour requirement, where does the 56 hour criterium come from?
The Dutch minister of education has set rules for granting study finance to EU students (click here to read, Dutch only.). These rules are in conformity with EU law, but they contain one line that is ambiguous and unclear:
DUO gaat ervan uit dat iedere studerende die over de controleperiode 56 uur of meer gemiddeld per maand heeft gewerkt, zonder meer de status van migrerend werknemer heeft en daarmee terecht studiefinanciering heeft ontvangen over het gecontroleerde studiefinancieringstijdvak.
This line says that when determining whether and EU student is a worker or not, DUO will automatically assume that anyone who works at least 56 hours a month is a worker. The rules do not specify what happens when a student works less than 56 hours a month. It is standard DUO practice to reject the applications of students who work less than this threshold, but this is not correct.
The rules only say that someone who works at least 56 hours a month is automatically considered a worker. This means these students do not have to file further proof for the three criteria mentioned above (effective and genuine activities, under the supervision of another, in exchange for salary). Therefore, the rules only mean to say that when a student works less than 56 hours a month, that student must provide the necessary proof for these three criteria. It does not mean they do not qualify!
DUO is abusing this ambiguity in the rules to reject many applications unfairly. The reasons for this are purely financial. In 2019, 63.600 European students were studying in the Netherlands. The average study finance grant (including travel product) costs DUO roughly a € 1.080 per month, of which on average around € 400 is a gift. For European students on average a larger portion is a gift, because on average their parents have lower incomes so these students qualify for the supplementary grant more often.
Even when just counting the average gift component of the student finance (€ 400 a month consisting of a partial supplementary grant and the student travel product), the entire costs of student finance for EU students amount to roughly € 305 million euros every year. Needless to say, DUO has a big interest in keeping the costs low by rejecting as many of the applications as possible.
The policy works, because EU students rarely file a complaint or an appeal with DUO or with the court. International students believe what DUO tells them, and they have limited access to information on this topic that is not written in Dutch, let alone legal assistance.
Since 2014, we have been helping European students get the student finance that they are entitled to. Over the years we have won hundreds of cases for students from all over Europe. Don’t take our word for it. The Dutch courts have an online database in which they publish the most important judgments that are handed down. Several of the cases we won for students have been selected by the courts for publication, because of their significance for the developments in the field of law.
In 2015, the court in The Hague granted the study finance to one of our clients, who had worked an average of 44 hours each month, with one month as low as 20 hours. The court specifically ruled that not meeting the 56 hour requirement did not mean that she was not entitled to student finance, but only that she does not automatically qualify (paragraph 12). Click here to read the judgment.
In 2017 the court in the Hague granted study finance to one of our clients because she had earned an average of € 541 per month. The court ruled that this was so substantial that she qualified for the study finance, even though she did not meet the hour requirement. Click here to read the judgment.
In 2019 the Court of Appeals granted study finance to one of our clients, who was able to prove the work she had done based on documents she had written as part of her job. The court considered these documents written by her so substantial that it was proof of genuine and effective activities, so that she was granted the study finance for the months in which she had worked on these documents. Click here to read the judgment.
Oftentimes however, cases never end up with a judgment, because DUO grants the study finance after we file a complaint or an appeal. DUO knows it cannot win these cases in court, so DUO just grants the study finance after they see a complaint or appeal has been lodged. One example of this was published by the courts. In this particular case we had to take the appeal all the way to the Court of Appeals (the highest Dutch court in study finance cases). Once there, DUO decided to grant the study finance anyway. Therefore, the court did not have to make a material judgment, but DUO was nonetheless ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings and grant the student additional compensation. Click here to read the judgment.
Students with internship contracts get their DUO applications rejected more often than not. DUO’s policy with regards to internship contracts is very strict, but there is no basis for this strictness in European Law. The Court of Justice has ruled that people following an internship also qualify as workers, as long as the internship meets the criteria (effective activities, under the supervision of another, for monetary compensation). It does not matter what it says on the contract (labor or internship agreement). It is also irrelevant whether the internship is a a mandatory part of the university curriculum or not. In exceptional cases internships do not qualify, for example when the student has not completed enough hours in order to familiarize himself with the work.
Students who are self-employed can also be eligible for study finance. The requirements are slightly different than for workers employed with a company.
To prove the genuine nature of the self-employment, the student should be able to provide proof of work, an itinerary and financial records.
Students who do not work in the Netherlands may still enjoy the protection of the Treaty. This is the case if their family member (excluding siblings) is working in the Netherlands. To enjoy the protection of their partner, students must be in a registered partnership or marriage, or be able to prove the long-lasting and durable nature of their partnership. To enjoy the protection of their parent, the student must be under 21 years of age. The family member in question must have the nationality of a member state of the European Union.
When the employment of a student ends, the student is also no longer a worker. In that case, the student no longer enjoys the protection of art. 45 of the Treaty and is no longer entitled to study finance. However, under certain conditions it is possible for a student to retain his or her status as a worker.
The European Union directive 2004/38/EG determines that the status of worker can be retained, if the job is lost involuntarily (click here to read the directive, see article 7). This is the case when the student gets fired or a limited time contract does not get extended. The only condition that the student must comply with is that the student must register at the unemployment office (UWV) and start looking for new employment immediately. In that case, the student will retain the status of worker for at least 6 months. This should be sufficient time to find a new job and continue to enjoy study finance.
Someone who is involuntarily unemployed and decides to follow vocational training to increase his or her job prospects may also retain the status of worker for the duration of the studies.
An application for student finance can be filed online or by regular post. In order to apply online, you must have a citizen service number, in Dutch a ‘burgerservicenummer’ or ‘BSN’. You automatically receive one when you register with a Dutch municipality. You also need to create a DigiD-account. The following link can be used: https://duo.nl/particulier/footer-engels/service/log-in-to-mijn-duo.jsp.
If you prefer to file an application by regular post. You can use the forms found here: https://duo.nl/particulier/student-finance/apply.jsp. You can also download them here directly: 1) Application form for Higher Education (Hogeschool/University). Make sure you send the form by registered mail. When you drop the form off at a DUO-service desk, do ask for a delivery confirmation.
Make sure you add the following documents to your application:
An application can be filed with retroactive effect from the start of the academic year. That means an application will have effect from September 1st, even if the application is filed later in the academic year. However, applications cannot be filed for academic years that have already concluded.
We can assist you with filing an application. Just send us an e-mail if you need help.
DUO has 8 weeks to decide on the application. Unfortunately, there is no way to speed this up. If a decision is not taken within 8 weeks, we can declare DUO in default. After being declared in default, DUO has to take a decision within 2 weeks. If a decision is not taken within these two weeks, DUO has to pay a fine to the student, starting from € 23 per day (with a maximum of € 45 per day and a maximum total amount of € 1442). The fine is irrespective of the outcome of the application.
If an online application is filed. You´ll receive a notification in the online system, which can be accessed through DUO’s website. Take note that upon filing an online application, you will not receive a paper decision by regular mail. The notification in the online system is in Dutch, which may be confusing for an EU-student.
If an application is filed with the form, DUO has to notify the student on the decision by letter. The notification contains the decision on the application. Because the notification is produced by an automated system, the notification only shows the results of the decision, and not the decision itself. You therefore need to study the notification carefully, an application can also be granted in part.
A complaint against a rejection in part or in full has to be filed within 6 weeks after receiving it. Take note that the legal time limit of 6 weeks is a legal deadline. An appeal filed more than 6 weeks after the date listed on the decision will not be processed.
After the study finance has been paid out, DUO will approach the student for a check. DUO wants to know if the student who received the study finance, truly worked 56 hours each month. DUO asks the student to provide the labor contracts and pay slips as proof. These documents have to show that the student worked at least 56 hours per month.
DUO Website: Do you not have Dutch nationality? Then we will check whether you still meet the nationality requirements for receiving student finance. Are you a student from an EU-country? And do you receive student finance because of an employment contract? Then we check whether you (or your partner or parent) work(s) for at least 56 hours per month in The Netherlands.
In addition to this, the student has to fill out a ‘Verklaring EU-student’ (EU student statement). In this statement the student declares that he/she worked at least 56 hours per month in every month that they received the study finance. They declare this to be true and have to sign the document with an autograph.
A lot of students run into trouble with this. Because their contracts are only for a limited amount of time, they often have to find other jobs throughout the year. These gaps can sometimes mean that the student did not work 56 hours in the month or months that they were between jobs. Because students are also given flexible contracts (often on-call, zero-hour contracts) it can happen that some months they are not requested by their employer to work 56 hours or more, even if the student was willing to work that amount of hours.
When confronted with the DUO check, stick to the following rules:
Do not send them by regular mail/post. In your e-mail tell DUO you have no further documents and ask them to take a decision based on the documents that you sent them.
In all of these cases it is very important that you contact us as soon as possible. There is often a deadline of six weeks. If the deadline passes it is no longer possible to file a complaint.
For filing a complaint with DUO and an appeal with the court it is not mandatory to hire a attorney. Students can go through these proceedings themselves for little to no charge. That is not to say that is a good idea. European law can be complex and DUO is a large well-financed machine specialized in this subject material (or, as one of our clients put it: specialized in crushing students’ hopes and dreams). That DUO is misinforming students does not mean they themselves are misinformed. DUO knows exactly how EU law works and they do what they can to prevent the student from utilizing EU law effectively.
Students are entitled to subsidized legal aid from the Dutch government. The personal contribution that students have to pay for legal services under this system is generally between € 150 and € 200. When the case is won, DUO has to pay a compensation for these legal fees. Because we are confident that we can win all cases (even if sometimes it means going all the way to the Court of Appeals), we do not invoice the students for the personal contribution and instead collect the compensation from DUO when the case is won. In practice this means that our services are free of charge for students.
Have any questions related to this article? Leave them in the comments below, use our contact form or send us an e-mail. We usually respond the next working day. Have you received a rejection from DUO? Then call us immediately. A complaint has to be filed within six weeks. Any complaint filed after that is inadmissible, the student will no longer be able to claim his or her right to student finance.