National Ombudsman delves into dilemmas of Caribbean students

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 Curacao, 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 Curacao 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 la cal 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.

The Daily Herald.

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