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Many international students at TU Delft are worried about their studies, money and housing. They ask TU Delft for help, but are still facing a lot of uncertainty.
Many students find it hard to concentrate on their studies while the world is in lockdown. (Photo: Lucas de Leeuw)

Many international students at TU Delft are worried about their studies, money and housing. They ask TU Delft for help, but are still facing a lot of uncertainty.

Imagine you are an international student, far away from home, stuck in a country you don’t know and you have to pay more than EUR 2,000 a month to stay there. Returning home or getting a job isn’t an option, and your family cannot send you money. What would you do?

“Hello, I am Nihal and I am a master’s student at TU Delft. The support from TU Delft to international students has been really bad in the coronavirus situation.” We received this message from Nihal Ashok via Facebook. He is in his second year and the only thing between him and his degree is his thesis. But because of the corona crisis, he cannot pay his tuition fee.

Going back to India is impossible now anyway

“My parents pay for my study,” Nihal says when I call him. “The tuition fee is EUR 1,312 per month. My living expenses are around EUR 700. My parents have a business in India, but because of the lockdown their business is closed. They still have to pay their rent and their employees, so they don’t have a lot of money for me now.” But even if they had the money, there is another problem: transferring money to the Netherlands. “Cash is very important in India, everyone uses cash. So my father has to go to the bank, deposit the cash money into his account and transfer it to the Netherlands. This is impossible, because all the banks are closed.”

Nihal thought of a few solutions, but none of them was suitable. “I can go back to India and de-enrol completely from TU Delft. But if I want to come back to finish my thesis, I have to go through all the hassle of getting a visa and a residence permit again. Besides that, going back to India is impossible now anyway. Getting a job is also not an option, I can’t afford any slack on my studies now. And working in this situation is putting my health at risk, the last thing you want as an international in another country.”

More cases 
The Indian Student Association (ISA) is aware of more cases like Nihal. “And besides the financial issue, we see problems with housing,” says Vivek Chandrashekar, President of ISA. “If you are doing a two year master’s, your housing is only available for two years. The housing contracts expire in July to make room for new students. Now, because of the corona crisis, a lot of students cannot finish in time. What are they going to do? Many students find it hard to concentrate on their studies while the world is in lockdown and the threat of the disease approaches. TU Delft is not very sensitive in this, the students have to complete the exams on time. The students are telling me that they will not be able to perform at their best.” The psychological aspect has already been addressed by Emiel Beinema in a letter to the Executive Board.

Why can’t we get a discount for these months?

Lucas Terreri is President of Latitud, the student organisation for Latin American students. He doesn’t understand why the international students still have to pay their complete tuition fee. The tuition fee for a bachelor student is EUR 14,500 a year, for a master it’s EUR 18,750. “We are paying for about 20% of what the university used to offer. We can’t use the Library, the campus, test facilities, sometimes we don’t even get replies from professors. Why can’t we get a discount for these months? If my thesis is delayed by a few months, who is going to pay the tuition fee in those months? Do I have to pay it myself?”

Q&A via Zoom 
TU Delft has seen more and more questions coming in and decided to hold a Q&A with Rob Mudde via Zoom. A nice and direct solution, you would say. “It was not convincing,” says Vivek Chandrashekar after the session. “We didn’t get definite answers. For example, about Q4, will we be able to take all the classes online? And the exams as well? If that is the case, a lot of students will return home and do their classes from there. If TU Delft gives answers, the students can plan their next steps.”

“I understand it’s hard to decide such things, and it takes time, but universities around the world are struggling as well and are doing better,” Chandrashekar says. “We got an answer from the student communications office that said ‘The University cannot decide on tuition waivers or other financial compensation on its own. They need to discuss it with other universities and with the Government’.”

The University of Groningen has already informed their students that they can postpone their tuition fees if they have trouble paying. The University of Utrecht started a crowdfunding campaign for their students. Delta has asked TU Delft several times through multiple channels for answers, but the only thing we have heard up to the time of writing was: ‘we are working on it, keep addressing your problems to the study advisor, to the career & counselling centre and to your study association’.

Crowdfunding campaigns 
Students have started their own campaigns: compensate tuition fees for everyone (in Dutch only) and Nihal started tuition reduction for international students. A student from The Hague University of Applied Sciences has asked for money for herself through crowdfunding so that she can make it to the next academic year.

While the campaigns are spreading and gaining more and more signatures, TU Delft has responded to Nihal personally. He can pay his tuition fees for the months of April and May in June. “I’m a little relieved now, I’m fine for the next two months, which is a great thing!” Nihal responds. For the students who are not sure if they should go back home, TU Delft issued some news: as far as possible, all educational activities in the fourth quarter will take place online. This also applies to the examinations. “This definitely means a lot of people will return home, at least until August,” Chandrashekar says. “If they stay enrolled and pay the tuition fee and rent, they can keep their visas and houses in Delft. Unless they are in their second year of their master’s.”

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