Groningen University magazine UKrant reported last autumn on a Romanian organisation that defrauded the Education Executive Agency (DUO), but also duped Romanian students and their families.
The scheme seemed completely above board on paper. The student’s family gave a sum of money to the organisation (GCRS), which then transferred the funds to the student as salary, supposedly for freelance journalism work. That ‘salary’ allowed the student to apply to DUO for student finance. The student then transferred that salary back to their own family, who used it to make another donation to GCRS, and so on.
The scheme was uncovered by Romanian journalists. It seemed to be working smoothly, until GCRS stopped paying out the ‘salaries’. The students (and their families) told UKrant that they lost the money they had transferred.
MP Pieter Omtzigt, who has long been concerned about international students securing entitlement to student finance, submitted written parliamentary questions about the revelations. Amongst other things, he wanted to know how many Romanian students received student finance thanks to GCRS.
According to the ministry, the numbers were approximately 260 students, of whom 45 this autumn. It could have been many more as, according to the latest figures, there are 6,700 Romanian students studying in the Netherlands.
Can DUO do anything against schemes of this type? Not really, since it is only allowed to assess whether students are entitled to study finance, according to the answers given by outgoing Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf. “DUO is therefore not authorised to independently investigate the activities of a particular organisation.”
Dijkgraaf is nonetheless committed to taking action against these types of schemes. He said that the Education Ministry will “review what is necessary and possible to further curb inappropriate use of this scheme” in the coming period.