The international students often find it difficult to connect with their Dutch fellow students. “A lot of the locals arrange events that you feel unwelcome to,” notes one of the respondents.

Marieke Oomen of ESN Rotterdam can understand this feeling entirely. As the President of the local ESN chapter, two of Oomen’s main activities are organising events for international students and providing them with information – particularly those students who have just arrived in the Netherlands. She hopes that these and other efforts will help international students settle in fairly quickly.

Still, Oomen recognises the issues of loneliness and depressed feelings reported by many internationals – although she finds it difficult to determine the exact scale of the problem. “I think that most students who feel sincerely lonely won’t always be quick to share this,” says Oomen. “And I expect that on average, they are less active in student organisations. This doesn’t just make it harder for them to build up a social network; it also makes it harder for outsiders to determine which students are feeling seriously lonely.”

Position of international students

The national student unions called attention to this issue on Thursday: the same day that Education Minister Van Engelshoven discussed internationalisation with the Dutch House of Representatives.

According to the student unions, not enough attention is paid to the position of this group. For example, the information services for international students are sub-par. One in three international students has never heard of the student finance agency Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO). And quite a few are just as unfamiliar with the Dutch Tax Administration and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND).

Oomen agrees that it’s important to improve the provision of information. “Moreover, international students should actually enjoy the same rights and obligations as Dutch students. That may seem logical, but unfortunately it doesn’t turn out this way in practice.”

No hard conclusions

Although the survey performed by ISO, LSVb and ESN offers insight into international students’ circumstances, the researchers emphasise that drawing any hard conclusions would be ‘undesirable’. The questionnaire was only completed by 311 international students: 110 non-EU respondents, and 201 with a European passport. The survey should be seen as an exploratory study, which the student organisations intend to repeat every year.

The number of international students has increased dramatically over the past few years – particularly in academic higher education. We can find around 28,000 international students at Dutch universities of applied sciences and another 49,000 international students at research universities. And these figures don’t even include foreign exchange students, who only attend part of the institution’s degree programmes.

Incidentally, according to the Internationalisation Agenda published by Dutch research universities and universities of applied sciences, the institutions are working to strengthen the ties between international students and their host country – in the hope that the students stay in the Netherlands after graduation. This in itself would be a boon for the Dutch economy. If the number of international graduates who stay on were to rise by only 1 percentage point (from 25 to 26 percent), this would put an extra EUR 60 million per year in the Treasury’s coffers.