Ethnically diverse students screened for fraud remarkably often

The Education Executive Agency (DUO) accuses ethnically diverse students of fraud with student grants and loans much more often than Dutch-only students, NOS and Investico reported after talking to 30 lawyers who assist students with objection procedures against DUO. Almost all of their clients are culturally diverse.

Over the past 10 years, the lawyers assisted 375 students who were accused of fraud with their student funding. 367 of them – 97 percent – were ethnically diverse students.

DUO has been working with an algorithm to detect possible fraud since 2012. The system selects potential fraudsters using risk indicators it devised itself. Fraud investigators then determine who inspectors will visit at home. They look at other factors. For example, DUO considers living with a relative like a sibling or an aunt a risk factor for fraud. Inspectors draw up an advisory report containing statements from housemates or other locals, and DUO uses this to determine whether fraud has been committed.

If DUO concludes that the student committed fraud, it sends the student a letter informing them that they have to repay their grants, often with a fine. DUO does not talk to students before the decision, according to NOS.

Experts the broadcaster spoke to are very critical of the detection method. The algorithm used has no scientific basis. In its testing phase, DUO also did not feed it neutral data, but the experience of DUO employees. “Then you have no idea what you are measuring,” Gijs van Dijck, a professor of private law specializing in ethnic profiling by government organizations, told NOS. “It’s fine to work with an algorithm, but you have to know exactly what it does to avoid picking on one group.”

DUO told the broadcaster that its algorithm does not select fraud suspects based on ethnicity and nationality. “We do not know what a student’s background is. We do not select on that basis,” a spokesperson said. DUO also said it was unaware of the over-representation of ethnically diverse students in its fraud checks.

Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf of Education wants to “inspect thoroughly” whether DUO’s fraud checks “are really fair.” He wants to determine whether the fight against fraud “is not having a discriminatory effect in an implicit, indirect way,” he told NOS. “As a government, we have become really alert to this as a result of the benefits affair.

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