With ever-increasing anxiety and desperation, hundreds of mostly foreign students are searching for a room in Groningen. These students aren’t demanding. They just need a roof over their heads, access to a shower, and beds to sleep in. They would also prefer not to get scammed out of their money somewhere along the way. But sadly, the city seems unable to fulfill even needs as basic and reasonable as these.
The University of Groningen seeks to draw more and more international students to Groningen. It wants 30 percent of all Groningen students to be from abroad. This would benefit the university’s growth, financial position, and higher education rankings, which more often than not list internationalisation as an important factor.
Obviously, internationalisation isn’t a bad development. International students, more than anyone else, can bring new perspectives and contribute to the openness and diversity of the university and the city of Groningen. For this reason, they should receive the warmest of welcomes.
But the painful reality is that the city seems unable to give them anything of the sort. Last year, the housing shortage had dire consequences. Even still, the university keeps striving to bring more foreign students to Groningen in order to keep growing.
These students, lured here with enticing promises, are left completely to their own devices the minute their applications are completed and their contributions to the university’s prestige and finances have been made.
Even if the university attempts to help the situation, it does so in a way that can only be described as incompetent. The RUG is offering accomodation in a tent camp, and in container apartments – the latter won’t be finished until October, residents will have no rental protection whatsoever, and they’ll have to pay exorbitant amounts of rent.
Dreaming of top-notch education and the time of their lives in one of the Netherlands’ most beautiful cities, these students have registered and paid their tuition fees. The summer, however, brought a rude awakening. Reality, it turns out, consists of tent camps or even of having to spend the night under a bridge or in a park.
The beginning of their college years won’t be composed of eagerly leafing through brand new study books, making new friends and discovering Groningen. Instead, they’ll have to keep up their room hunt sleep deprived and with aching backs, carefully navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of shifty landlords and outright scammers.
The situation is relatively simple. There is a shortage of rooms. The real estate market in Groningen is swarming with scammers and impostors. International students don’t understand the finer details of Dutch real estate well enough to properly discern what’s normal and what’s not.
And still, the university tirelessly brings in more students from abroad, without offering them any guidance in finding housing, and thus driving them straight into the arms of scammers. It is not up to me to judge whether or not such a course of action can be considered criminal. It’s deplorable, at any rate.
As a student at this university, as an inhabitant of this lovely city, I am ashamed of the way newcomers are made to begin their studies in Groningen. Therefore I ask the university to face the truth, and to really tackle the housing troubles.
The university brought them here, so the university ought to help. Come up with real measures to prevent another housing crisis from happening in the future, and offer those who fell victim to the current policy a sleep-in facility at a decent price, or better yet, for free. International students deserve to have their basic needs met.
Gijs Altena is a Master’s student of Literary and Cultural Studies at the RUG