NS card for internationals?
Most international students are simply out of luck: they do not qualify for the NS student travel card which guarantees free travel throughout the Netherlands. ‘To get this student travel card as an international student, you have to meet very specific requirements which hardly any international students meet’, ISIC staffer Ivo Kneepens explains. You must either be a national of an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, have been living in the Netherlands for five consecutive years or more, or be working in the Netherlands for at least 56 hours a month to be eligible for the current card.
‘Aside from the fact that most internationals don’t qualify for a NS student travel card, even trying to obtain a regular NS discount card is already a real labyrinth for them. That’s why we thought developing an NS travel card specially for international students would be a good idea.’
When ISIC initially approached NS about the idea, the Dutch rail service was open to the possibility, but they had some reservations. The NS was unsure if there would be enough demand for a special travel card for international students, ‘so EP-Nuffic took the initiative and developed a veyvey to find out what international students’ needs are regarding travelling within the Netherlands’, Kneepkens explains.
EP-Nuffic, the expertise and service centre for internationalisation in Dutch education, was enthusiastic about the idea and felt that it was a good fit for their organisation’s own goals. ‘We aim to make international students feel welcome in the Netherlands and hope to encourage them to start a career here. If the Netherlands is going to roll out a red carpet for international students, a special travel card for international students should also be part of it’, Irma Nentjes of EP-Nuffic states.
ISIC does not think it would be enough for NS to simply makes it easier for international students to obtain the existing discount card. ‘International students have different needs than the average Dutch traveller’, Kneepens says. Not only do they often travel further within the Netherlands to discover new parts of the country than their Dutch classmates, but they may also live outside of the more densely populated cities where they study and thus commute on a daily basis.
After gaining more insight into international students’ travel needs via a survey, ISIC will have a better idea of what the NS travel card for internationals should ideally be. But Kneepkens already has a rough idea of what it ought to look like: ‘We hope it will be a prepaid card that offers a 40 percent discount and is a month by month subscription.’
The internationally-affiliated student organisations in Groningen were unaware of the ISIC initiative, but one ESN board member actually suggests that it would be unfair if a travel product specifically for foreign students is exactly the same as the one for Dutch students.
‘The student travel card for Dutch students is meant for travel to and from university. We expect that international students will mostly use the travel card for recreational travel, so they don’t need to be able to travel for free’, ESN board member Steffie Witbreuk states.
Roughly one-third of the members of SIB, the student organisation for international relations, are foreign students, and SIB board member Violette Kanyemesha sees the benefit in such a specialised product. ‘It’s a great way of giving international students the opportunity to see more of the Netherlands, especially for internationals studying in Groningen, as the city is quite far from most other cities in the country.’
But AEGEE Groningen’s representatives thinks a special card would be unnecessary for their international members. ‘Most of the internationals that come to us are only in the Netherlands for a short period of time, so this travel card probably won’t work for them’, board member Karlien Kruizinga states. Still, Kruizinga does think more clarity and affordability are in order. ‘We often hear from internationals that travelling with the NS is sometimes complicated and expensive.’
Update: The European Court of Justice ruled last week that the Netherlands is not obligated to provide travel cards for European students. Since non-Dutch students do not pay Dutch tuition fees, the court found that foreign students are not entitled to the travel card, which is considered a part of the Dutch university study financing.