International students less and less happy in the Netherlands

Orientation day 2020. Photo: DUB

International students represent 21.5 percent of all higher education students in the Netherlands. The annual survey, which is now in its fourth year, is organised by the Dutch National Student Association (ISO), the Dutch Student Union (LSVb), and the Erasmus Student Network to find out how this group is fairing.

...Not too well, it seems.

In shock
The three organisations are particularly concerned about international students' mental health, which is why this year's survey has more questions on the topic. "Due to the pandemic, students are confined to their rooms and are not able to meet new people. That is challenging for all, but especially for international students, who often barely know anyone before coming to the Netherlands and do not have family nearby they can rely on in difficult times", said ISO Policy Officer Antonia Vegt to DUB back in February

Of the 737 respondents from 193 countries, over 65 percent stated they have been under stress and 45 percent feel lonely or very lonely. These percentages are higher than they were in the years before the pandemic, but even then the percentages stood out. Last year, over half of the respondents experienced stress and just under thirty percent of them were lonely.

Dahran Çoban, chairperson of the Dutch National Student Association (ISO), is shocked with these results. “Many international students are in need of help and their study programmes offer insufficient help. We need to change that before the summer”.

Although most internatonal students were well aware that this academic year would probably include at least some online class, they are definitely not happy about having to study remotely: twenty percent of respondents are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied about online education.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also throwing a spanner in the works in other areas, such as finding employment. A third of respondents has even been experiencing (major) financial hardship since September 2020.

If only the coronavirus was their only problem. Finding (affordable) student accommodation in the overcrowded Dutch housing market is also giving many respondents a headache. For example, 57 percent of them have been faced with ads for student housing stating that international students are not welcome. One third of respondents have been turned down for housing at least once for being an international student, whereas over 25 percent have been confronted with fraud in the housing market.

“We are attracting international students to the Netherlands in large numbers, but this also means that we must combat discrimination and provide them with an affordable roof over their heads”, declared Lyle Muns, chairperson of the Dutch Student Union (LSVb). “Rack-renters all too often take advantage of the vulnerable position international students are in.”

Isolated from Dutch students
International students also complain about how hard it is to make friends with locals and intergrate into the Dutch culture. Over 75 percent of the respondents would like to interact more with Dutch students, but the language barrier is often an issue. Many of them feel excluded during class, as their Dutch classmates prefer to speak Dutch. However, Dutch lessons are often too expensive. One third of respondents said they're dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the possibilities of learning Dutch for free or at a fair price.

Unfortunately, these problems are anything but new: research (link in Dutch) conducted by the Dutch Student Union in 2013 already showed that language is an issue. Additionally, the number of internationals who have a hard time connecting with their Dutch classmates was just as high two years ago.

High time for change, according to the three student organisations. They argue that the international student is the Cinderella of Dutch higher education. They call on institutions to invest in the mental healthbeing of their international student communisties, as well as providing them with affordable Dutch language courses.

Moreover, they believe institutions should make more information about the Dutch housing market available, in English, to new international students. They also suggested a national website in English about practical matters related to work, study financing, banking, and health insurance. Last but not least, the three organisations would prefer the Ministry of Education to conduct this research on international students from now on.

Most respondents come from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. There were slightly more respondents from universities of applied sciences (56 percent) than from research universities (43 percent).