International students who are unable to find accommodation and so end up sleeping in cars, on campsites and in hostels, or even returning home. There has been a great commotion about the lack of accommodation for foreigners in Dutch university cities. For this reason, Kences, the student housing umbrella organisation, has sounded the alarm.
The student housing agencies have issued a warning: something will have to be done about the housing shortage faced by international students, and soon. If not, a major accommodation crisis will ensue in the next few years. Kences was quick to point out how important international students are to the Netherlands. If the number of international students were to double by 2025, for a total number of 150,000, this would result in an additional 750 million ‘economic activities’ per year, as well as more than 22,000 jobs at ‘knowledge institutions and their suppliers’. In short, the interest groups feel it is time for a new action plan to ensure that investments are made in student housing.
Therefore, the outgoing Minister for Education, Jet Bussemaker, had to attend her final House of Representatives debate on Wednesday. In association with GroenLinks’s Zihni Özdil, SP-affiliated MP Frank Futselaar submitted a motion for a new action plan, designed to result in more student housing. According to the motion, the Minister will have to enter into hard agreements with knowledge institutions, municipal governments and housing associations to address the significant housing shortage.
“International students are vulnerable. They do not know our laws and they have no network. For this reason, they are more likely to be ripped off, or to return to their home countries full of disappointment,” said Futselaar. Surely this is not what the government intends, Özdil added. “We like to shout from the rooftops that it is great to see our education system become more international. It is pretty horrible, then, that we can’t provide these students with accommodation.”
However, the Minister feels that an action plan will not achieve much, and she does not believe that it is a good idea to charge universities and universities of applied sciences with arranging sufficient accommodation for their students, as CDA-affiliated MP Erik Ronnes recently suggested. “I don’t think we should turn [knowledge] institutions into housing associations.” The Minister is loath to impose too many one-size-fits-all rules on universities and universities of applied sciences.
She does feel that international students must be provided with honest and transparent information, so that they will have a better idea of what to expect. “Even if this means they may be better off attending, say, the University of Twente rather than the University of Amsterdam.” Because some cities will always have a housing shortage, Bussemaker says. And more often than not, knowledge institutions will not be able to do anything about it.
“Inform students if it is going to be hard for them to find anything here. If we do so, it will be their own responsibility to weigh all the pros and cons before coming here.” In addition, Bussemaker feels that knowledge institutions must work with municipal authorities and housing agencies to ensure more accommodation will become available.
The student housing agencies’ wishes are in line with the new coalition agreement, which states that the Dutch education system must be made even more attractive to international students. And rightly so, says Bussemaker: “We live in an internationally oriented world. This is also true – and perhaps particularly true – for higher education. Although I can see the surge in nationalist sentiment in the Netherlands, I think we must seek to preserve our internationally oriented attitude.” Because we can learn from each other’s cultures, the Minister said, but also because foreign students will give the Dutch economy a €1.5 billion boost if they stay in the Netherlands after completing their degrees.