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Column: Unintentional effects

18 Oct 2010

After extensive deliberation and costly failures, the public transport smart card was finally launched in the Netherlands. After a few days it became apparent that a fundamental element had been overlooked. Many schools take their students on excursions by bus or tram to the zoo or a historic monument, for example. Previously, their teacher could just buy a ticket for the whole class. With the new system, it appeared that each child needed an individual ticket to check in and out of the vehicle, and anyone forgetting to do so would risk a fine ranging from four to twenty euros.

Column: Unintentional effects

Han van der Horst

This resulted in chaos and delays at tram stops. Fortunately, a solution to the problem was soon found for groups in the form of a kind of group smart card. This quick response should serve as an example to those responsible for the childcare system in the Netherlands.  On the surface, it seems to be regulated adequately: students are entitled to partial reimbursement of the costs for childcare and so are staff members in higher education. However, this does not apply to researchers who live on a grant (and who do not have a salary). After all, they are not students and they do not have an employment contract.

How come? The conclusion is evident. The people drawing up the regulations governing childcare reimbursement had overlooked this category. It had slipped their mind entirely. They involved everyone and everything, realizing in good time that students can have children too, but it never ever occurred to them that there are researchers in higher education in the Netherlands who have already graduated and are living on a grant instead of a salary.

A result may have been achieved, but it is one that no one actually wants and that, with a probability bordering on certainty, was not intended that way. It should be possible to remedy this situation just as illustrated in the example of the public transport smart card for school groups. Or would it – as we have often seen in civilized societies such as the Netherlands – be inordinately complicated and turn everything upside down just to rectify this small omission?

The author, Han van der Horst, works at Nuffic's Communication Directorate. His publications include The low Sky. Understanding the Dutch.

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