The housing squeeze is a constant challenge
My 17-year-old sister is in her last year of high school in the United States and is beginning to consider which universities she wants to apply to. Following in my steps to Utrecht is an attractive option to her. Aside from the university itself, its postcard-perfect center, friendly atmosphere, and convenient location make Utrecht an appealing place to live. Yet for my sister’s sake, I can’t help but worry about the hundreds of other students who fall in love with the city and the competition they pose for one of the few things Utrecht lacks: student rooms.
The housing squeeze is a known and constant challenge for Dutch and non-Dutch students alike, but for the sake of this piece, I focus on international students, particularly the precarious situation students from outside the European Union may find themselves in.
In general, efforts to expand the international accessibility and attractiveness of the university are welcome measures. In just the two years since I started, the number of English-taught bachelor programs has doubled, with my own faculty about to debut the new Philosophy, Politics, and Economics bachelor next year. More and more communication is conducted in English and non-Dutch students are starting to participate in university governance. The Strategic Plan 2016-2020 even specifies the university’s goal to increase the number of international students from 6 percent in 2015 up to 10 percent minimum by 2020. Such ambitions boost the international profile of UU and make it more open for both students and staff, but concern for side effects of these actions cannot be overlooked.
When a non-EU applicant is accepted at UU and chooses to attend, we are granted residence permits which are contingent upon two main things: sufficient academic performance and having a place to legally reside! Now, when students are unable to find a room, they are unable to register themselves with the city. If caught unregistered for too long, there is the threat of having your residence permit revoked and, consequently, breaking off your studies. The situation may be analogous to being bumped from an overbooked flight: you are eligible to receive the service and choose to pay for it, only to learn while already in the plane that you have to change flights because all the places are taken.
I know that student and political initiatives are ongoing to address the need for more housing but I question what responsibility does the university have to manage its policy in relation to these constraints? Is there a moral obligation for the university to “slow down” as the infrastructure to support the foreign students it invites catches up? The way I see the current situation, it’s a viscous circle that started with good intentions, but as the university wants to welcome more and more students from all corners of the world, Utrecht itself is quickly running out of corners to put them in.