Emergency fund for students: ‘I didn’t imagine I would ever not have enough money for food’

Published on
April 28, 2021

The crowdfunding campaign for students who run seriously short of money due to the coronavirus crisis has raised tens of thousands of euros. For international students especially, this support is a lastminute rescue operation that enables them to complete their degree. The first crowdfunding campaign raised more than 68.000 euros, but the emergency fund is now running empty. Yet, applications are still coming in and new applications are expected. Therefore, University Fund Wageningen (UFW) has renewed the crowdfunding campaign to help these students as well. So far, an additional 22.000 euros has been raised, adding up the count to 90.000 euros in total. Another 10.000 euros still has to be donated in order to achieve the goal of 100.000 euros.

In spring 2020, when we realized that the pandemic was causing students to get into financial difficulties, University Fund Wageningen (UFW) launched a crowdfunding campaign to establish an emergency fund. Since then, nearly 830 WUR staff, alumni and students have donated money, and a total of 68,730 euros has been collected. Twenty-six students have already received support from the fund.

The beneficiaries of the fund include a Chinese MSc student of Nutrition and Health who prefers to remain anonymous. ‘Like many Chinese students, I am supported entirely by my family,’ she says. Her family got into financial difficulty because of the pandemic. They earned less and had higher expenses because their daughter was going to have to take longer to complete her degree – an expensive affair with non-EU tuition fees set at around 17,000 euros a year.

‘I was doing an internship in a hospital in China when the Covid-19 outbreak started. The hospital was in disarray. I had to work online and my internship supervisor at the hospital had no time for me,’ says the student in explanation of her delay. The internship was ended early and she continued her studies in the Netherlands, where the coronavirus had not arrived yet. ‘When I started my degree, I didn’t imagine I would ever not have enough money for food,’ says the student. Going back to China was not an option for her. ‘I am under pressure from my family to come back with a degree.’ So the emergency fund was her last resort. ‘I was extremely relieved that my application was accepted,’ she sighs. The contribution she received for six weeks is enough for her to live off until she graduates.

‘I won’t forget this anytime soon’

It is mainly international students who apply to the fund, says Arianne van Ballegooij of UFW. It is so expensive for them to get an extension that they can’t make ends meet, and there is nowhere else they can go for help. Dutch students often have more options than international students, such as going back to live with their parents again or increasing their loan. But even they get into difficulty sometimes.

A student from Amsterdam on the Master’s in Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering had to put his research on hold for months during the first school closures of 2020. ‘I study eating habits among secondary school students, and to do that I needed to talk to students, observe what goes on in schools, and interview teachers. That wasn’t possible.’ Only after the summer could he get going on his research, and then schools closed again in mid-December. He conducted the rest of his interviews online, but making that switch cost him another two months. ‘I haven’t had the right to financing since October, and I get a modest contribution from my parents. Luckily I’ve been given over 550 euros a month for five months out of the emergency fund. I was very touched by the fact that private individuals gave money. I won’t forget that anytime soon. In the future I will definitely contribute to a fund of this sort.’

Question of solidarity

Alumnus Jeroen Naaijkens (Garden and Landscape Architecture, 1974) felt it was practically his duty to help students out with a donation. ‘It’s partly a question of solidarity. And my own degree at Wageningen was crucial because of the good time I had there and the career opportunities it opened up for me. So I want to give something back to the university.’ Before he retired, Naaijkens was chair of the board at HAS University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch. ‘I saw there how important it is for students to know they don’t have to face everything on their own but can ask for help. I’ve seen students run aground because the system of being funded by their family stops working due to a crisis. The university community has a responsibility towards them,’ Naaijkens believes. ‘So this emergency fund is a great initiative.’

Finally graduated

The first students who have been supported by the emergency fund have now graduated, like the Colombian Daniela, MSc Rural Development and Innovation: “I think I speak for all Latin American students when I say that the fluctuations in currencies during the corona crisis have been a complication. Our families have to overcome this unexcepted reality while facing the inadequate response of our governments to manage the economic crisis.’ Daniela received support from the fund for four months, with which she was able to finish her studies. ‘To complete a masters study is not an easy task, and financial issues make this much harder. I feel grateful to have the back-up of the fund and to be able to finish this phase in life to continue working for the things I'm passionate about.’

About the emergency fund for students

UFW’s emergency fund for students helps students who have run into acute financial difficulty due to the coronavirus crisis, so that they can continue their studies. The support is for a stated period and is restricted to living expenses, rent and insurance costs to a maximum of 5000 euros. ‘Usually they have saved up enough to pay their tuition fees, or their family can just about afford to cover those, but then they have absolutely no money left to live off. They get that from the emergency fund,’ says Arianne van Ballegooij of UFW. Only students with no other possible sources of support qualify. ‘Half the applications met the criteria and were accepted,’ says Van Ballegooij. ‘And now the emergency fund is almost empty. But we are still getting new applications from students whose studies are being delayed because the coronavirus crisis is going on so long.’ UFW is therefore raising funds again to help these students as well.