Dutch Caribbean students at school in the Netherlands.
THE HAGUE--It is a known fact that a majority of the Dutch Caribbean students going to the Netherlands to further their education end up in problems. The Netherlands National Ombudsman has now investigated the challenges that these students face and is urging governments to take action.
Each year, some 1,600 ambitious and optimistic young people from Curaçao, Aruba, St. Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands arrive in the Netherlands. Approximately 1,000 enter university or higher vocational education HBO, while another 600 enrol in intermediate vocational education MBO. Unfortunately, many soon face various hurdles and fail to complete that education.
The investigation by the National Ombudsman showed that students face difficulties before they even set foot in the Netherlands. On arrival, they have to deal with practical matters such as finding accommodation and arranging health insurance.
“The studies may not be what they expected, while there can be a significant culture shock. Education staff and fellow students show too little consideration for the specific challenges faced by this group of Dutch citizens, many of whom go on to experience financial difficulties as they struggle to repay student loans,” it was stated in a press release on Wednesday.
National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen called on the governments in The Hague and on the islands to resolve the problems Caribbean students are facing. “These talented young people are of immense importance to the future of the islands. It is important that they are able to build a sound foundation for their future career, whether here in the Netherlands or at home. They need that extra bit of support. Government agencies should not assume they are entirely self-sufficient or know exactly how our complex society works,” he stated.
“For young people in the Caribbean, studying in the Netherlands should be an option. Not everyone has the aptitude or desire, but those who do should not be held back by unnecessary obstacles. Good preparation is of crucial importance,” stated Van Zutphen.
The National Ombudsman announced that he would join the Ombudsmen of Curaçao and St. Maarten in discussions with the governments in the kingdom. “Our aim is to ensure that prospective students are fully prepared for what awaits them, both in terms of their education and when navigating Dutch society.”
The National Ombudsman’s report “Concerns of Caribbean Students” presents the findings of a study among 624 current and former students from the islands. The report confirmed that many experienced a range of problems prior to, during, and after their studies in the Netherlands.
Students receive little specific guidance, are unable to obtain a Citizen Service Number in advance, are excluded from Dutch health insurance, and do not understand the Dutch system of taxes and allowances. They are unfamiliar with Dutch society and culture, the climate, and language. Everything is new and very different. Many accrue significant debt in the form of student loans. “There is a strong focus on choosing the right school and programme, but nothing about life in the Netherlands,” said one student in the report.
Students should be able to make certain practical arrangements before they leave the islands, especially where it is possible to do so online. At present, they are unable to obtain a Citizen Service Number until they have registered with a local authority in the Netherlands. This means that they cannot enrol in school or open a bank account. Finding accommodation is a significant challenge.
Caribbean students are not eligible to take out standard Dutch health insurance. Without a policy issued by a Dutch insurer, they are not entitled to claim the health costs allowance. Many students nevertheless apply for Dutch health insurance, usually on the recommendation of friends or family, and for the health costs allowance. If it later proves that they were not entitled to this allowance, they must repay it in full. This is likely to be a significant amount.
Caribbean students can find it very difficult to adapt to life in the Netherlands. The language is not the only hurdle: there are also significant cultural differences. Being unaware of their rights and obligations can only reinforce feelings of alienation and helplessness. Some students face discrimination and exclusion.
Over half of respondents in the report have fallen behind with their studies, most citing psychological reasons. There is no adequate support network. Many students are reluctant to ask for help. Organisations in the Netherlands seem not to comprehend the culture shock that Caribbean students experience. Some go without help or support for a long time, which increases the risk of depression.
A relatively large number of Caribbean students switch studies, many more often than once, fall behind with their studies or drop out altogether. As a result, many accrue significant debt in the form of student loans.
Most Caribbean students have to take out a local student loan, on top of the loan from Dutch study-financing provider DUO, to pay for their studies. Otherwise, it would not be financially viable to pursue further education. In addition, the current coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has severely reduced opportunities for part-time employment.
Almost half of the (former) students who are currently repaying student loans stated that they are experiencing financial difficulties. Because the majority have more than one outstanding loan, the total monthly repayments are more than they can comfortably afford. Loan repayments are especially a problem for students returning to the islands, where employment opportunities are limited. This deters many from going home at all.