For years, the UG sent Alexandru Telea abroad to recruit new students. While the university has always denied it, it was definitely about the money, Telea writes. ‘Everyone knew and talked about this, but it was never included in any public policy documents.’
Let me start with some personal facts: my career has been international. After the fall of communism in Romania, I joined a freshly established computer science department in 1991. All teaching at the department was in English. During my studies (1991-1996) I had three TEMPUS scholarships in the Netherlands and ended with a PhD position in Eindhoven. Internationalisation has definitely benefited me.
I have seen several waves of international students: PhD students (starting in 2000); then MSc students (around 2007); finally, international BSc students (around 2008).
I have guided these international students as a lecturer, PhD supervisor, Examiners Board chair, and programme director, in computing science programmes at the universities of Eindhoven, Groningen, and Utrecht. In all these roles, I saw that, statistically, international students were superbly motivated; scoring significantly higher grades (over 25%) than the average Dutch students; perfectly fitting in with the study programme; and getting better jobs after graduation than their national counterparts.
So there seems to be no problem with international students, does there? The good has been mentioned above. The bad follows next.
The only support the UG provides is a few links to so-called housing organisations
Why are there so many international students? This is by no means a natural occurrence: the recruitment of internationals has been an explicit policy of several universities in the Netherlands, and Groningen in particular. At several so-called international student fairs, we lecturers were sent to recruit even more students – in China, Eastern Europe, Latin America.
Why? Because of money: there aren’t enough Dutch students to cover the costs of higher education in Netherlands. Everyone knew and talked about this, but it was never included in any public policy documents.
But this process has an ugly side: there were, and as far as I know, are, no provisions taken for the true accommodation of international students. In mid-spring, they receive a so-called matching test (which is not binding, thus cannot filter out technically unfit candidates). Anyone who passes receives the happy news by end of spring and has only three to four months (until September) to find housing. The only support the UG provides is a few links to so-called housing organisations.
By any standards, this is ridiculous. A foreigner can barely find their way, online, to rent a house in three or four months. I have witnessed extreme cases where not just students, but even PhD candidates and even professors were who’d been recruited were unable to find a place to live.
Finally, the ugly is evident: the University of Groningen (and other universities with it) plays a wholly hypocritical role. They want the internationals, but when they have to take responsibilities in moving these individuals to a new homeland and workplace, they look the other way. The cash is in, why should they care about the details?
The current housing debacle is a surprise only for the blind
The current housing debacle in Groningen is a surprise only for the blind – it is entirely obvious to anyone who just wants to look. The larger issue is that the same blindness pattern occurs to equally serious situations like the quality of the students (international or not) we admit and graduate. But the university keeps saying that they couldn’t have known.
Are there solutions to these problems? Of course there are. I recall talking to the management at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering around 2012. He was fearful of the many incoming internationals due to housing. I said: ‘Why not anticipate? If you want them, buy houses, strike deals with realtors, you have the cash’.
He looked at me as if I was an alien from a different planet and changed the topic. Those potential solutions were not in his portfolio it seemed, and therefore not to be considered. The same goes for the quality of admitted students: the evident solution, used worldwide – admissions exams – is politically not in any portfolio and therefore not discussed.
Alexandru Telea was adjunct professor at the Bernoulli Institute for Mathematics, Computer Science, and Artificial Intelligence at the UG, where he also served as chair of the Examiners Board and director of the computer science programme. He was appointed a full professor of visual data analytics at Utrecht University.