Opinion: Gimme a ride!

The Dutch get it, the internationals don’t. But free OV travel should be given to all students, says Felix Bornheim.

I enjoy studying in the Netherlands. Education and living standards are high, and the Hague - my hometown for almost two years now - is a fascinating place to live in. One thing that particularly appeals to me is the internationality which Leiden University is ambitious to promote. Not only at my campus, but also throughout the humanities and even the University as a whole I notice efforts to include non-Dutch students. This is great! And it would be even greater if it were thought through all the way.
And I’m not talking about student finance - I understand that only students who have been living in the Netherlands for a longer time should be entitled to receive the Dutch taxpayers’ money. I’m talking about free transportation: the Dutch get it, the internationals don’t. But don’t international students need public transport just as much as their fellow Dutch students?
Leiden has a buzzing student life to offer; there is a great variety of extracurricular activities, from studium generales over sport facilities to fraternities. Likewise, The Hague is a hub for international institutions that often invite students to their events. For international students, each of these activities has an additional cost of €6,80 - a return ticket from or to Leiden.
International students, both in The Hague and Leiden, should be encouraged rather than hampered, to gather as much Bildung as possible in both locations. However, in order to obtain a free OV card I am required to work 56 hours a month. This injustice is justified by making free OV travel part of student finance. Again, I am not asking for a full student finance for internationals, but free OV travel would ensure equal access to education and should therefore be granted to everyone.
Besides the educational aspect this would also enable international students to see more of the country the chose to study in. There are lots of sites to enjoy, friends to visit and cities to be discovered. But leave aside the fun part of traveling; sometimes it is just necessary. For my part, I can assure you that studying in a university with campuses scattered over two cities does require me to travel from time to time.
You don’t need to rely on my word alone: if you’re a Dutch student, try to imagine how much liberty you would have to give up if it weren’t for your free OV card. Ask any international student, and they will most likely agree that free OV travel would enable them to do and learn more. Now, I reckon the first argument to be raised against this claim is ‘budget issues’ - after all, someone has to pay for all this. In that case, free travel between the Leiden and The Hague would be a good thing to start with; this really shouldn’t hurt whichever institution is responsible for this too badly.
Changing this issue might take a lot of time, paperwork and convincing, but it’s an important project, just as important as the first steps towards the internationalisation of Leiden University. Because if we allow the process to stagnate half way, we may never call it a success. And as long as no one can give me a sound reason why international students should not have the same rights as the Dutch, I will refuse to renounce them.

Felix Bornheim is an international student from Germany, following the Bachelor of International Studies in The Hague

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