What's causing stress for international students in the Netherlands?
Too many international students, too little housing. Source: Aurore Belot/AFP

Thanks to inexpensive living costs and a high quality of life, the Netherlands is hosting more international students than ever before. In 2018, some 122,000 international students from 162 countries were enrolled in Dutch universities – 10,000 more than 2017, according to data collected by Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for international co-operation in higher education.

Most of them, however, do not feel at home there, a new survey has found.

More than three quarters reported they lack contact with local students, according to the survey of more than 1,000 international students by three student organisations (LSVb, ISO and ESN).

Housing, or rather, the lack of it, is a major issue. More than 70 percent felt student housing should be better organised, with more than one third reporting having been rejected for a property due to their nationality. Up to 44 percent reported feeling very stressed for this reason.

“International students are actively recruited,” said Carline van Breugel from LSVb.

“But when they get to the Netherlands, often there isn’t any affordable accommodation, they don’t get Dutch lessons and they find it difficult to connect with fellow Dutch students. This needs to change.”

Not much interaction with locals. Source: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

The student organisations recommended universities to ensure more opportunities for collaboration between international and local students, as well as offering Dutch lessons to international students to encourage interaction. This is because more than one third of international students responded that they were dissatisfied with the limited opportunities to learn the language.

Since 2005, the number of non-EU students alone has more than quadrupled from 11,234 to 48,507 in 2017 due to the country’s increased focus on internationalisation within its higher education sector. Universities expanded courses offered in the English language to fuel this boom, and the Dutch economy reaps at least €1 billion annually from their presence in the country.

This influx is straining city housing and course availability for Dutch students. In a speech delivered last year, University of Amsterdam rector Karen Maex announced it would be striking an “optimal balance” between internationalisation and ensuring spaces for domestic students.

The Education Ministry said that even if “the internationalisation of higher education brings added value…there must always be a place for Dutch students”.

“The clauses in the law pertaining to the choice of language in higher and vocational education must be revised,” the Ministry said, adding that greater focus must be made to ensure “accessibility to education for Dutch students”.

Others have been less diplomatic of their views about international students. Other problems have been blamed on universities’ increasing recruitment of international students, too. A local politician, Laurens Ivens of the Socialist Party (SP), said international students are crowding the local housing market. Local students are reportedly being forced to stay in emergency shelters due to the structural shortage in affordable housing.

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