Dossier about the issue of the tuition fees in KU Leuven, by the Leuven Students Against Tuition Fees

This report summarises the problem of the increased tuition fees in KU Leuven, and explains why we are against them.

If you agree, we invite you to sign the massive letter (which will be delivered to the diverse authorities of the KU Leuven Association) in which we request them to stop the increased tuition fees:

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Description of the problem

KU Leuven has its origins in the Catholic University of Leuven founded by the Pope Martin V in 1425, and, with particular regard, in the Trilingual College founded by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1517, where local and international students could come and study for free with international experts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew (source). Ever since then, the participation of many international professors and students in the University has provided it with enormous renown and international prestige. Yet the current administration of KU Leuven seems to care too little about this, and has decided to turn this institution into an expensive University that somehow will attract more international students by being expensive.

For many years all the students in KU Leuven had to pay only a very small tuition fee, equal for everyone, independently of the nationality of the student, or the chosen programme. In the year 2014 KU Leuven changed its internal rules and granted the Faculties freedom to charge an increased tuition fee for the students coming from outside the European Economic Area (the non-EEA students), if they wanted. Many Faculties (which are listed as some of the addressees of this letter) have decided to seize this opportunity and have effectively increased the tuition fees (source):

The regular annual tuition fee is 922.30 EUR, which is paid by EEA students in most programmes. However, a non-EEA student would pay annually in some programmes an increased tuition fee of 1750 EUR, 3500 EUR or up to 6000 EUR. Some programmes have increased their tuition fees for all the students also, to 1750 EUR, 3500 EUR, 4130 EUR, 6000 EUR or up to 8500 EUR.

In other words, the non-EEA students pay up to 6.5 times the regular fee (+551% extra), and the programmes with increased fees for everyone charge up to 9.2 times the regular fee (+822% extra).

All these increases have been done with the utmost discretion, while the authorities insist that they are actively looking to improve the internationalisation of KU Leuven and to increase the quantity of international students, applying what they call a “Strategic Plan for Internationalisation”. They somehow do not find any problem in taking an “economic approach”, and increasing the tuition fees to attract more and better students, even though it goes against common sense.

Other members of the KU Leuven Association, apart of KU Leuven, have also increased their tuition fees for non-EEA student:

LUCA School of Arts, from 938.80 EUR to 6597.60 EUR; Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, from 938.80 EUR to 6100 EUR; and VIVES University of Applied Sciences, from 922.30 EUR to 4999.80 EUR.

Odisee University College and UC Leuven Limburg (UCLL) are the only members that have not increased the tuition fees for non-EEA. The case of UCLL is particularly laudable, as this institution in its official website explicitly states that:

“We value every UCLL student and do not want to discriminate based on the student’s  background, nationality, age, … That is why we apply the same tuition fee rate for all students”  (source).

The other members of the KU Leuven Association do not seem to agree with this admirable approach to internationalisation, and have decided to treat different the non European students.

There have been rumours recently about the authorities having the intention of making a uniform tuition fee for either all the Faculties of KU Leuven, or all the Schools and Universities of the KU Leuven Association, to “simplify” the process of admission of international students. This uniform tuition fee would be an increased one for every single non-EEA student. But there are no official declarations, as these actions are usually discussed and taken in secret.

Thus there are 2 different issues that bring the danger of the increase of the tuition fees: the first is the decision of the Faculties to increase their own fees, and the second is the plans to increase the tuition fees uniformly.

Alleged justification of the increase of the tuition fees

The Faculties that have increased the tuition fees have given few explanations for their actions, often appealing to some kind of “taxpayer justice”, like the Faculty of Arts, that has explained that Belgian students pay taxes and that these are then invested into the Belgian education system, while non-EEA students have not paid these taxes, for which the raises should be a compensation.

However it is not true that Belgian students pay taxes (apart of the VAT) before attending the university, given that they are usually young people that have never worked before. The University is still getting the same quantity of money, independently of the origin of the students. And the extra money charged to a non-EEA student is kept by the Faculty and used however the Faculty wants. No money is reimbursed to the taxpayer, and no tax reduction is made to the taxpayer.

Moreover, a non-EEA is required by the Belgian embassy to have a guaranteed budget of 654 EUR per month to be able to obtain a student visa. That means that a student,  by staying one year in Belgium, is forced to contribute 7848 EUR into the Belgian economy. This requirement already limits a lot the potential of plenty of non-EEA students, and increasing the tuition fees just raises higher the already high financial barrier that non-EEA are forced to surpass to be able to study in KU Leuven.

Other argument is that international students often leave Belgium after their studies, so all the “investment” done into them is lost. Yet the Belgian laws are particularly responsible for this, because contrary to other countries like the Netherlands where it is possible to obtain a 1 year work search visa after graduating, in Belgium nothing is offered to the non-EEA graduate, and the Belgian government itself expects the non-EEA graduate to leave.

Another argument is that international students face more psychological issues than local students, and therefore extra money is required to expand the psychological services, however we have inquired with the Education Data Management Unit of KU Leuven and they have said that there is no solid basis to say that international students make more use of KU Leuven psychiatrists or psychologists than Belgian students. Yet, even if it were true, the expansion of the offer of psychological help cannot be so expensive, and those students that required extra help could finance it themselves with far less money than the amount that the tuition fees were increased. The authorities should understand that the main cause of psychological stress for students -and most people- is the lack of money, and the best way to help to solve that issue is to make the student spend less money. Taking away money from the student to provide the student with psychological help for the stress of being poor is absurd.

Yet perhaps the most defended argument is that it somehow helps to internationalise the university, attracting more and better international students. This is probably the main argument that will be defended by the authorities in the future, specially when they try to increase the tuition fees in the whole university or in the whole association.

It is important to realise that KU Leuven has been working well for many years charging the same tuition fee to everyone, and it has achieved to develop a very high reputation without having done anything to its tuition fees. There is no imminent reason why it be urgent and necessary to increase the tuition fees for non-EEA students.

The authorities have alluded to some marketing research they made that showed that some potential students from the USA prefer universities that are expensive. The conclusion of this “research” is hard to believe, as it betrays common sense and the principles of commerce. Moreover, someone that thinks that a University is better only because it is more expensive will probably not turn out to be a very good student, so KU Leuven should not aim to attract people that think like that, if it is truly aiming at getting better students.

The more expensive the University become, the hardest it will be for people to come. This is evidently true, just considering that people have a limited quantity of money to spend, and it does not matter how much they want to attend some school, if it is too expensive, it will be impossible to go. We cannot know how many people have not been able to attend KU Leuven due to the increased tuition fees, however many current international students in KU Leuven have declared that if this increase had happened before, they would not have been able to come.

Empirical evidence shows also that higher tuition fees do not attract more students. Some Faculties have already increased their tuition fees for non-EEA students for some years, specially in the master programmes (it has been possible since 2014), yet we consulted with the Education Data Management Unit of KU Leuven and they stated that there is no solid basis to say that any Faculty have suddenly attracted more international students, neither EEA nor non-EEA, in the master programmes in the last 5 years.

Ultimately it is hard to believe that the authorities of KU Leuven might believe themselves this argument -that higher fees attract better and more students-, and the fact that they increase the fees with the utmost discretion show that they do not actually want people to realise what is happening. If it were attractive, they would not hide it, but talk about it a lot.

Affected people

The affected people can be classified in 5 groups: the non-EEA students, the Belgian students, the Schools and Universities of the KU Leuven association, and the Belgian society.

This increase affects mainly the potential non-EEA students that will not be able to afford coming to the Schools and Universities of the KU Leuven Association anymore. But the Belgian students are affected too, because many programmes have increased their tuition fees for everyone. The authorities could use this movement as a precedent that justifies the idea that increasing the tuition fees is good, and then attempt to increase it to everyone, Belgian or international.

The Belgian students will also lose the chance to interact with people from all over the world, coming from all kinds of economical backgrounds. There will not be higher diversity in KU Leuven, except perhaps for a diversity of rich persons. This is why the Schools and Universities of the KU Leuven Association are the 3rd group of victims, they are sabotaging their own internationalisation, exchanging it for the opportunity of earning some easy extra money. They are forgetting that they are Universities, and not businesses; that their users are their students, and not their consumers; and that their main mission is to educate, and not to sell.

The international prestige of KU Leuven comes from its long history, full of international participation. The trilingual college funded by Erasmus of Rotterdam was a place where local and international students went to study for free with eminent international experts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Now, KU Leuven, is at the risk of becoming an elitist expensive place, where international students will come just to be worried about how to pay, instead of how to learn or how to make outstanding research that contribute to the human development.

And eventually this will affect the 4th and 5th group of victims. The Belgian people will see their beloved city of Leuven pass from being a shiny source of knowledge and research for the world, to a mere vanity gemstone whose value comes not from its own virtue but from its price tag, increased by caprice. Most of the dexterous people in the world will simply not be able to afford that gemstone, and their communities, specially the poor ones, along with the universal culture of the humankind, will lose all the magnificent research and education that could have happened there, and brought many benefits to them, but did not, because the price was too high. What is the point of having the best university in the world, if the world cannot profit from it?

Description of the solution

The solution is simple: revert the increased fees, change the rules so this cannot happen again, and change the aims of the policies and the actions of the authorities, so an objective be to actually reduce the tuition fees for everyone, and, if possible, eliminate them. It is not impossible, it is just the way it had been for many years, until the authorities suddenly and secretly increased the tuition fees, trying to solve an imaginary problem, and, with its supposed solution, created a real and serious problem.

Leuven Students Against Tuition Fees (Facebook) (Twitter)

Sign the massive letter to the diverse authorities of the KU Leuven Association, in which we request them to stop the increased tuition fees:

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