Bus, tram, train and the underground railway are the main means of transport for international students in the Netherlands. However, unlike their peers, they are not usually eligible for the student travel product. Moreover, unlike in other countries, the Netherlands has no standard student discount for public transport. This raises many questions.
To find out more, Nuffic and ISIC, the organisation behind the international discount card for students, conducted a survey of 400 international students in 2017. The respondents indicated that they found it difficult to work out what season tickets and discounts were available and which ones they were eligible for.
"On average, they spent 80 euros a month on public transport," says Ivo Kneepkens from ISIC. “The majority of them, 65%, had an OV Chip Card without a discount.” Almost all of the respondents said they would like a special card, with information and an application procedure in English.
This academic year, in conjunction with mobility solutions provider Mobiliteitsfabriek, ISIC and Nuffic conducted a trial of such a card. Five research universities and four universities of applied sciences drew their students’ attention to the possibility of ordering such a card. They could do this before they arrived, via a website in English, or during their orientation days, during which time they could also collect their cards.
For 25 euros, the students received an ISIC card and an OV Chip Card, which gives them a 20% discount on off-peak travel with NS (Dutch Railways). ISIC had to order extra cards in order to meet the demand from 3,000 students. By October, almost all users had topped up their cards. Their average monthly travel costs were 50 euros. According to Kneepkens, the 200 or so queries received by the help desk in the first few months were mainly about lost cards. “So it seems the information we provided was clear.”
Next academic year
At the start of this year, there was a meeting between the educational institutions and public transport providers concerned. Based on their input and an analysis of the travel data, ISIC is considering the options for next academic year. “Students feel that the service provided is just as important as the discount,” says Kneepkens. “We will continue to work hard on both aspects.” The fact that there are so many different public transport providers makes it difficult to arrange discounts, he explains.
Kneepkens hopes that educational institutions will continue to draw their prospective students’ attention to the cards in the future too. “The ideal scenario, in my view, is that students order a card before they arrive in the Netherlands and then receive a QR code that they can use to travel from Schiphol. They can then collect an OV Chip Card from their educational institution that’s tailored to their local requirements.”
Integration and accommodation
The card is not just beneficial to the students. ISIC and Nuffic believe that, if it helps them get to know the country better, it will also encourage integration. “A card like this is really useful for getting to a work placement as well,” says Floor van Donselaar, who works on ‘mobstacles’ at Nuffic. Furthermore, the OV Chip Card may help solve the shortage of accommodation in student cities. “Given the shortage of accommodation, international students are being forced to live further and further out of the city. If they get a discount on public transport, this will be a lot more appealing.”