Dutch renege on work fee plan

March 16, 2001

The Dutch National Union of Students (LSVB) has set up a telephone helpline in response to an increasing number of complaints from students about work placements.

Students at colleges of technology and vocational training are expected to go on work placements as part of their courses.

However, according to the union, colleges have been demanding fees of up to €1,135 (£720) from companies that want to employ them on work experience. This is in breach of the agreement made several years ago by the colleges themselves that they would not charge fees to firms offering student placements.

Students are also finding that their choice of work experience is increasingly limited as many small, non-profit making companies cannot afford to pay to take them on.

Where students have their hearts set on a particular placement and the company will not pay, they are faced with the problem of either finding an alternative or coming up with the funding themselves.

One complaint to the helpline was from a student at Fontys College who had arranged a suitable placement only to be disappointed because the company would not pay the college the suggested fee. He said the college appeared to be placing higher importance on its own interests than on his education. His complaint is typical of reports received since the helpline was established at the union's head office in Utrecht in February.

The union's chairperson, Fransien van ter Beek, said that work placements were a normal part of study programmes. "Colleges get money from the government for them, and students contribute towards them through college fees."

The union said it was unfair that institutions should make a profit out of work experience schemes.

The original agreement made by the colleges stated that approval of placements should not be dependent on financial contributions from potential employers.

But the difficulty faced by the LSVB, as it tries to lobby politicians to act to protect students, is that the agreement is not legally binding.

There was merely a gentlemen's agreement that student work placements would be offered free of charge.

The LSVB warned that this was an example of the kind of issue that will arise more often as a result of deregulation within the Dutch education system.

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