How can international students find a room in Utrecht?

How can international students find a room in Utrecht?
How can international students find a room in Utrecht?

It was the big hype of the summer: the growing number of international students who come to the Netherlands but are unable to find a place to lie. The media reported international students finding refuge at campsites. Student organizations Vidius and the International Student Housing Assistance (ISHA) demonstratively set up a tent camp at the Uithof to attract attention to the issue.

But how bad are things, really? DUB’s video team visited the camp site to talk to the international students – but couldn’t find any. According to the campsite’s owner, there had been three students, but each had left pretty quickly, stating they’d found a room.

Still, the problem definitely existed. In a video chat, two students talk about how hard finding a room had been. They had both expected more help from the university. Emily Swaddle:  “They acknowledged the problem, but said there was nothing they could do.” Italian student Giorgio Ponte lived in a hostel for an extended period of time before finally finding a room.

The number of international students is growing. In 2016, there were 2232 international students at Utrecht University – 425 more than the year before. The number consists of both exchange students, who only spend a few months here, and international students who come to Utrecht for a full bachelor’s or master’s program. And although the university, the SSH and other accommodation providers keep trying to make more rooms available to international students, the supply is lacking behind the demand. At this moment, an interdisciplinary task force, set up by the UU in collaboration with the SSH and the municipality, is working on future-proof solutions.

How many rooms are available to international students at this moment? In their 2015 annual report, he SSH mentions having provided rooms to an estimated 1100 international students. Most of these rooms have been reserved specifically for international students, PhD candidates and PostDocs. Furthermore, the SSH is running a pilot to include at least one international (bachelor’s or master’s) student in every interview round for every available room.

One issue in this is that Dutch students aren’t exactly thrilled to open up their homes to foreign students, according to a recently published study by ISHA. They don’t object to the foreign student’s presence, but fear linguistic and cultural differences. And so, if they get to choose – they’ll choose the Dutch student.

Foreign students who aren’t able to find a room through a social housing corporation like SSH, have to try their luck on the private housing market. The UU’s international office has noticed more and more students have tried to find their own accommodation. Generally speaking, these are rooms in a privately-owned student house, cheap hostels, or the planned student hotel; students pay more than the 300 to 500 euros a non-furnished room costs through social housing.

The university states they give prospective students a lot of information about finding a room in Utrecht. “We inform them how you can get a room in Utrecht. But we don’t give any guarantees. Students are aware of this,” says Lenn Lamkink, policy advisor Student Affairs and International Office. “We’ve also organized a webinar for international students this year, and we had trained an employee of StudentenService in answering questions international students may have, helping them find their way around the Utrecht housing market.” Lamkin says it’s important as a university to be very clear about what a student may expect in terms of housing.

It’s unclear how many students decide not to go to Utrecht as a result of not being able to find housing. The International Office says this happens a few times a year. Recently, there was a bachelor’s student who could only find a room for two months – which was too uncertain for this student. Especially the younger students want the security of long-term housing. ‘

In Amsterdam, councilman Laurens Ivens for the SP party – tasked with city housing – notes that the scarcity of student housing is caused by the explosive growth of the number of international students. He calls for the government to draw a line. Utrecht has a councilman from the same political party, but he’s not calling for a decrease of international students. In a written response to questions posed by city council party Student & Starter, he’s informed the city council that he’s going to discuss the future international student housing with the university. The city also wants to help international students find a room, and warn them against notorious slumlords.

It’s clear that steps have to be taken in order to provide housing to international students. If you’re going to be a university that attracts more and more international students, you’ll also need to ensure there are sufficient facilities; if not, there’s nothing stopping Utrecht from getting a bad reputation based on the current international students’ negative experiences.