There was a general election last week. That is all I really want to say about it but unfortunately there are likely to be some consequences that need addressing. Needless to say I have already been asked many times about what this means for British students looking to go to Dutch universities and the answer is still that I haven’t a clear answer but I do have some indications. Luckily, for students already at Dutch universities there is nothing to worry about but for those looking to start in the near future, there is some indication of what they might pay but no indication as to whether they will be able to avoid a “cliff-edge” at some currently unknown point during their studies.

As pointed out in our previous blog post, the Dutch government has guaranteed EU-fees status, and access to finance, to all Brits who started before the last exit day of 31st October ( the withdrawal date referred to on the Dutch government’s website ie. not the end of the transition period) so those who are already there will be absolutely fine as long as they don’t interrupt their studies for any reason. It is possible that they would be willing to extend this to anyone who starts before the next exit day but that is now pretty much guaranteed to be 31st January 2020 and therefore of no use to even the small number of UK students who start in the spring semester. However, if a student is currently on a gap year and planning to start in September 2020, they could guarantee themselves EU fees and funding if they establish residency in the Netherlands before 31st January 2020. I doubt there are many people who could do this but it would remove any uncertainty based on the Dutch government’s current advice.

Tuition fees definitely will not go up during the transition period when to all intents and purposes we are still in the EU (even though we will be pretending, or at least be able to say, that we have left). The current agreed transition period expiry is 31st December 2020 although that was based on a withdrawal date of March 2019 and even then hopelessly optimistic in terms of completing the necessary negotiation of any new relationship. Once the transition period ends, tuition fees and access to student finance in The Netherlands could end overnight for British nationals but there is no reason to assume that they must. The Dutch government has been very accommodating and understanding so far but now that there is a clear direction of travel based on last week’s election result, I think that we can say that our departure is not up for debate any more. It is going to happen and other EU countries will now start preparing accordingly.

The Dutch government’s own website states that “British nationals who come to the Netherlands after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and wish to commence studies will be viewed as third-country nationals, []. The type of residence permit they hold will determine whether they are entitled to student finance and whether they pay statutory tuition fees or institutional fees.” I have no idea what would qualify a British student for a residence permit that would ensure lower fees, or higher fees for that matter but this is clearly something I will seek to clarify.

I think there is no chance that the withdrawal date will change but every chance that transition could be extended by a year or even longer. It is theoretically possible a student could start in September 2020 and have graduated before the trade negotiations have even ended (indeed this is likely for one-year Master’s students starting in 2020). However, students cannot plan for that eventuality. I think if the withdrawal date shifts to after September 2020, the behaviour of the Dutch government so far indicates that students would be guaranteed EU conditions for the duration of their studies but there is no guarantee that this would be the case based on the transition-period-expiry-date. This depends on the type of residency a student would have (referred to above) and the precise outcome of the negotiation of the future UK-EU deal.

It is possible that as part of the new relationship agreed with the EU tuition fees for Brits and EU nationals might be maintained at their current levels within the UK and EU. This is the case for certain non-EU countries already, eg. Norway, Switzerland. However, this would not be something the British side is looking for in negotiations (if Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is still an accurate guide to intentions) and it is something they would have to concede. I cannot see what circumstances might bring this about but I suppose it could be considered a possibility. I am fairly sure some British universities will be lobbying for something of this nature as they could stand to lose almost all of their EU student numbers and a large proportion of their diversity, both of which will immediately impact on their global standing.

For students who are looking to start a 3-year Bachelor’s degree in September 2020 the only clear advice I can offer is do not delay, don’t be tempted by taking a gap year and seeing how things work out. They will almost certainly be worse. Students might have to assess the cost of their education on the basis that tuition fees might increase dramatically but if this happens in the third year, for example, the average annual cost might still be manageable. Obviously, students for whom such a rise in fees (and loss of student finance) would be a complete calamity will have to exercise caution when choosing whether to go to a Dutch university. Such students have my sympathy but that is all anyone can offer them. I suppose it is possible that British students will be eligible for scholarships in the future (and those who already have a non-EU passport might want to investigate whether this would be helpful for 2020 admissions although please bear in mind the earlier application deadline for non-EU students, usually 1st April for research universities) but the precise offering for British students is likely to be unknown for some time.

That is all I can say for now. Obviously, no one knows anything for sure just yet but I think the one good thing about last week is that this lack of clarity will not last much longer. Obviously, any good that comes from this is extremely likely to be outweighed by the actual consequences.

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