It’s easy to look down from a pedestal

The op-ed by Pieter Polhuis on the housing crisis contains a series of misshapen thoughts, says Thomas Ansell. ‘I don’t know if Polhuis is imitating some cut-price demagogue by stoking inter-cultural tensions, but he could at least try to substantiate his claims.’
By Thomas Ansell

In an op-ed this week The RUG is no housing corporation my fellow student Pieter Polhuis managed to exhibit exhilarating short-sightedness and a lack of compassion all the while presenting stunningly spurious claims. This is like the holy trinity of misrepresenting the situation, so let me just remind you: nearly 100 students might be living in tents (yes, tents) only a few days before the academic year starts at one of the Netherland’s best universities. Let me also remind you: this isn’t normal.

Let’s address the series of misshapen thoughts that Polhuis spurted in turn. As a result of the excellent academic training provided at the RUG, Polhuis is surely able to distinguish between a university and a housing corporation. The assertion that incoming internationals cannot do so, however, is a bit of an insult. Anyone that has even had a cursory glance over housing in Groningen knows that educational institutions do not provide housing here. Internationals can read. But being informed doesn’t protect you from homelessness. Especially in such a crowded and confusing housing market.

Egregiously false

Perhaps most egregiously false is the suggestion that Dutch students are somehow paying for all of this. I don’t know if Polhuis is imitating some cut-price demagogue by stoking inter-cultural tensions, but he could at least try to substantiate his claims.

Dutch students pay around a quarter of international (non-EU, to be accurate) fees, so what seems to actually happen is that a far greater proportion of non-EU fees are recycled into temporary accommodation. 8,000 euro per person per year is not a small amount of money. If Polhuis is so worried that his tuition fees are going to non-academic improvement, then maybe we can re-allocate some of the funds given to such open and welcoming institutions as Vindicat? More likely, his own exemplary academic training is disproportionately funded by non-EU fees.

Toxic housing market

However, what many international students do not know is that several years of over-recruitment and under-development in the city have created a toxic housing market for anyone who isn’t Dutch-speaking or indeed, wealthy enough to spend their summers jetting across Africa (breakfast in Uganda, lunch in Nairobi – sounds wonderful). No doubt he will return to a tastefully furnished apartment in the centre of Groningen either rented from a sympathetic landlord (a friend of Dad’s?) or owned by one of the overwhelmingly non-international student associations.

I love the idea of the university ‘bending over backwards’ to put a roof over the heads of incoming students. All universities have a duty of education and care to their students; the RUG is great at addressing such issues as pastoral support, but from personal experience all of the counselling and well-meaning advice is somewhat hard to take when you have no home to go to after your session.

‘Bending over backwards’

Is it ‘bending over backwards’ to install several huge barracks in order to prevent bewildered international students from littering the lovely parks and squares of Groningen? I’d say it’s simply providing basic human needs to those who require them. Perhaps Polhuis’ inability to recognize this can be chalked up to a deficiency in his academic training?

I haven’t even tried to address the most ridiculous statement in the article: ‘This attitude poses a real danger to the development of the academic, critical mindset of these new students’.

I think what Polhuis is trying to say is that hardship makes for a better academic mindset. If he’s right, then in the spirit of equality and critical thinking, Polhuis and everyone else should volunteer to live in (very) temporary accommodation at the start of the year. It will be a bit like fresher’s week, but everyone is really miserable.

It seems that even the best academic training in the country can’t teach compassion.

Thomas Ansell is a master’s student of religion, conflict and globalization at the RUG. He’s from the United Kingdom.



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