At the start of the academic year, the tight housing market led to issues for international students. They faced great difficulty trying to find a place to live, and were rarely invited for viewings by Dutch student houses. Student houses in Nijmegen should therefore be more accepting towards international students.
At the start of the academic year, finding a room is a huge challenge for every room seeking student. While most Dutch students can commute to the university from their parental home, international students are truly in trouble. One of them is the Cypriot Panagiotis Stavrou, who has been looking for a permanent room since April. In the middle of October he has to move out of the AirBnb where he has been living for a while. ‘I have no idea where to go next.’
Besides the lack of a parental home in the Netherlands, the 2.300 international students in Nijmegen are severely disadvantaged while looking for a room. Slogans like ‘NO INTERNATIONALS’ or ‘ONLY DUTCH STUDENTS’ are common in room advertisements on Facebook. This makes the search feel hopeless for international students. Dutch student houses specifically can offer them a solution. They have to open up to internationals.
The university and the foundation for student housing Nijmegen Arnhem (SSH&) guarantee international students a room for the first year of their studies. They get a contract for one year and can shorten it to the first semester before November 21. Logically, most international students have not found a new room before that date. Thus, most foreign students start looking for a new room in April, when the end of their contract is near. In this period, the stream of Dutch room seekers also rises, which makes finding a room even harder for internationals. Additionally, international students often leave to visit their home country during the holidays to spend their summer there. This makes it even more difficult to find a room, as visiting the house is a requirement for many rooms. Visiting is obviously not possible when the student is in their home country. When back in the Netherlands, many foreigners are often also helpless. Many Dutch student houses will not accept them, only because of their nationality. Stavrou says he feels like he is treated unfairly. Internationals like him are in an unequal struggle with Dutch students.
Student houses: the solution
Besides the private student houses where Dutch students call the shots, the university could also be held responsible for the problems internationals face when they are trying to find a room. If the university would offer all international students housing, also after their first year, student houses in Nijmegen would not have to open up to having international roommates. Elco van Noort, manager internationalisation of the Radboud University (RU), claims that the RU is trying everything in their power to offer internationals a room: ‘At the moment, we already ask all our contacts whether there are rooms available.’ He states that they are even thinking of putting container homes on campus as a last resort.
According to Van Noort, putting a halt to the influx of internationals is not a solution to the housing problems the group face. Whether it originates from the financial dependency on the tuition fees, the importance for the international academic community or the freedom to pursue education in Nijmegen: the RU will keep welcoming students from all over the world in the following years. Whether these students will or will not find a place to live after their first year of studying in Nijmegen is apparently of less importance for the university. Therefore, it will be up to the student houses in Nijmegen to provide the internationals a chance at a room outside of the university’s supply for the coming years.
Another organisation which is often looked at as the perpetrator of the situation internationals find themselves in, is the SSH&. However, to provide enough rooms to Dutch and international students, the housing association depends on the area the municipality allotts them. SSH& may build 1000 units before 2030, but according to the report on student housing by Knowledge centre Kences, it is already evident that this will not be enough to compensate for the shortage of rooms in Nijmegen. In addition, SSH& already rents a fourth of its 4.200 units to international students, while this group only makes up 10% of the student population in Nijmegen. Therefore, it is nigh impossible to create a higher chance at a room for internationals in the short term. However, student houses in Nijmegen already have this opportunity the first instance a room becomes vacant. At this moment, they are the only ones who locked the door for internationals.
Do you speak Netherlands?
In addition to the fact that it is much needed for student houses to open up to internationals, it would also benefit the student community in Nijmegen. The residents often view this differently: ‘We would rather not have internationals in our house because we think they would be less fun compared to Dutch students’, says a third year student. The reason for excluding internationals is, according to him, the difference in student culture between Dutch and international students. A second year student who also lives in a student house mentions the language difference as another reason to not invite internationals. ‘I think it is very discriminatory to exclude internationals because we do not speak the language’, Stavrou reacts. Furthermore, the level of English spoken by Dutch students is high enough to communicate effectively with internationals. If they would include internationals, they would have a larger pool to pick a student which is at home in the student culture from. After all, it is impossible for all internationals to not be sufficiently ‘student-like’. The loud parties at Hoogeveldt, where many of them live, do give that impression.
Student houses in Nijmegen have the power to make the room search for internationals notably easier. Seeing the precarious situation international students find themselves in, it is urgent the Dutch student community no longer exclude them from visitations. For Stavrou, this would not only be an opportunity to live in a fun house, but also for relaxation. ‘Studying is stressful enough as is. I don’t need to be homeless as well.’
This article was published in Dutch on October 28th 2021.