On Friday the 8th of September, more than 65 students gathered in front of the Academy Building of the University of Groningen. They placed tents, rolled out sleeping bags, and laid on air mattresses. Why? To show that they will just sleep in front of the university if there are no rooms for international students. The reason behind this protest is that the University of Groningen has accepted a lot of international students, even though there are no rooms for them in the city. These students are now staying with friends, in tents, and in hostels. It is clear that international students face a serious housing problem, but what can be done to tackle this issue?
The problem begins with the university. Universities want to attract as many international students as possible, and they do a lot of marketing for great studies. So a lot of students apply, many get accepted, but when they come to the Netherlands, they find out that there are no rooms for them. It is already very hard for Dutch students to find a room due to the insane housing market at the moment. Unfortunately, international students face even more difficulties in finding a room. In other countries, most universities have a campus, but in the Netherlands, it is your own responsibility. Due to this, some students simply do not have any experience in finding a room by themselves, or how to even start. What makes it even more difficult is that these students are not in the Netherlands when they start looking for a room. They cannot come to viewings or meet potential roommates; instead, all contact is digital. Furthermore, some room owners do not want to rent rooms to international students because they will only be here for a short period of time. What remains is the private market, which is still a problem for most international students. Rooms in this market are often extremely expensive, since these rooms are not only targeted to students, but also to young professionals. In addition, when a tenant leaves a student house, most of these houses are looking for Dutch-speaking people or non-internationals. This can be seen very clearly on Facebook, where adverts for rooms often begin with: “Only Dutch-speaking. I’m sorry, no internationals.” It is clear that this market is not ideal for international students to find a room on.
As already mentioned, these international students do not have a room when they come to the Netherlands, so where do they stay at? Most of them stay on the couch at a friend’s house, others in hostels, tents, or even AirBnB’s. The University of Groningen provided hundreds of temporary locations in response to the protest. In these locations, students sleep in big halls together with many other students. Of course this can only be a temporary solution, since no student can study productively when they have no room of their own and they need to share everything with a hundred other students.
Luckily, universities have acknowledged the problem and are looking for solutions. Many old buildings are quickly being transformed into student rooms. Think of the old ACTA building in Amsterdam. Furthermore, more cities have built a Student Hotel. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, The Hague, Maastricht, and Groningen now all have a Student Hotel. Another improvement is that universities make websites on which it is easier for international students to find a room. There are many websites now which all require a registration fee in order for you to become a member. Unfortunately, many of these websites are scams which just collect the registrations fees and only show fake rooms. An example of a reliable website provided by a university is ‘At Home in Groningen’. All possible rooms in Groningen can be found on this site. It is just too bad that this site was of no use to this year’s international students, as it only became available when the semester had already begun. There is also a waiting list in Amsterdam, where you can register for a room. The downsides of this waiting list are that the registration fee is 555 euros, and the odds of them finding a room for you at short notice are still very small. The last solution most cities are working on is building new places for students to stay at. This is a very good thing, but it is a long-term solution. Until then, universities must think about whether they have the capacity and facilities to provide a good student experience before accepting many new international students. This includes a proper room, for a proper price.
The situation in Amsterdam is even a bit worse than in all other cities. In Amsterdam, the housing market in general is a huge problem. Dutch students spend months looking for a room. The prices are way too high. Rooms of 600-700 euros per month are the standard, and the Student Hotel in Amsterdam also asks higher prices than in other cities: 800 euros per month in Amsterdam. Compare that to Eindhoven, where the Student Hotel ‘only’ costs 650 euros per month. The Amsterdam Student Organisation ASVA receives many complaints about the prices and lack of rooms in Amsterdam. They also received complaints from international students about their situation. The ASVA immediately demanded that the University of Amsterdam would take action. This helped; in July, there were still 500 international students on a waiting list without a room, whereas now, in October, there are only 34. This is a good improvement, but we are not there yet. There are still people on that list, and probably many more students in the city looking for a room.
To conclude, more rooms need to become available for international students. More need to be built, not only for the international students but for all students, because it is terrible that there are students without a room, with some even sleeping in tents. Until this problem is resolved, universities should only accept the number of students they can actually take care of. We will see next year whether the situation is any better.