Welcoming day at the UG ©UG, photo Marcel Spanjer

UG recruits non-EU students

Targeting the deepest pockets

Welcoming day at the UG ©UG, photo Marcel Spanjer
While the UG no longer attends EU recruitment fairs to attract internationals, it does still want to grow. And so it focuses on students from East Asia, Africa and North America: those who pay the big bucks.
By Jonah Franke-Bowell and Christien Boomsma
23 June om 11:25 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 June 2022
om 16:49 uur.
June 23 at 11:25 AM.
Last modified on June 23, 2022
at 16:49 PM.

‘It’s fucked up how universities make a shit ton of money, especially from non-EU students, but give no support whatsoever’, says black-wizardry on Reddit

‘The Hanze and the RUG should just say no to students. But that doesn’t make them any money…’ responds cafe-crema.

‘The UG should admit responsibility in this issue. You can’t recruit all these foreign students (because ka-ching) when there’s no room for them to live’, says Leandra on the Dutch forum FOK.

‘They won’t do that, that’d cost them too much money,’ replies Megumi.

No recruitment

Months after the Academy building was occupied by angry students protesting against the housing shortage in Groningen which left countless internationals homeless, the discussion still gets heated. The university should stop recruiting internationals, people argue in op-eds, on Twitter, or in the comment section of newspapers. The UG just wants to make a quick buck and doesn’t care about the housing situation, they say.

The aim is to attract a talented community of international students and PhD candidates

The question is: are they right? The UG has said it’s no longer actively recruiting new international students. It’s just ‘informing’ those who might want to come to Groningen. After the occupation of the Academy building in september 2021, the UG agreed in a joint statement with protesters and the municipality that the housing situation for internationals was a serious problem, and asked the government for means to regulate the number of incoming students.

But if the UG really meant what it said, what was its twenty-person recruitment team doing in Durban, Johannesburg, Harare, London, Mexico City, and Taipei these last months?

Recruitment teams at the various faculties are reluctant to talk. Recruiters at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) – which wants to grow from seven thousand students in 2020 to eight thousand in 2024 – immediately refer to the university’s spokesperson, Anja Hulshof, for comment. As did the University College when approached for comment.

Change of tack

The answer, says Hulshof, ‘is complicated’. ‘The UG’s recruitment strategy is a blend of pre-existing contractual obligations and a new direction that sees only international, Dutch and European students studying at the postgraduate level recruited’, she explains. ‘The aim in general is to attract a talented and diverse community of international students and PhD candidates to contribute to the quality of our education and research.’

Put simply: the university has not completely stopped recruiting. It has, however, changed its tack. It now wants to attract older and richer students. 

The UG started focusing on internationals because there are simply not enough Dutch students for the university to maintain its position. Students mean funding, and funding means a salary for the researchers and teachers. So ceasing recruitment of internationals altogether really isn’t an option.

At the moment, 9,094 international students from 127 different countries study at UG, a slight rise of 1.9 percent compared to 2020, when there were 8,922 students from 122 countries. Most come from Germany, Romania, Italy, and the United Kingdom. 


It’s exactly these students from the EU – those doing a bachelor degree, anyway – that the university doesn’t care that much for anymore. Of course, when they do decide to enrol in Groningen, they will be accepted if they meet the requirements. That’s a simple matter of EU rules, which allow a student from the European Union to study anywhere in the EU and pay the local tuition fees. 

But the UG doesn’t attend recruitment fairs in the EU anymore, with the exception of one in Ireland in October, which, Hulshof explains, was only because of ‘prior contractual agreements’ with recruitment companies.  

They’re trading quantity for the quality of the students’ bank accounts

Instead, the university aims to attract postgraduate internationals – those that already have a bachelor’s degree – from untapped markets like East Asia, Africa, and North America, in an effort to continue at least some growth in student numbers. Non-EU Europe – the United Kingdom, Moldova, Serbia – is targeted as well. That is: students from those countries who can afford to pay up to 10,000 euros in tuition fees – the big bucks. 

In addition, these are the students who, according to the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education Nuffic, are more likely to stay in the Netherlands long-term – for example as a PhD student, or at the lab of one company or another.

Giving information

The UG does allow faculties to recruit Dutch or international students into programmes that want to grow. Their strategy has to balance marketing against ‘giving information’, says Hulshof. ‘This enables those concerned to prepare for, self-assess, and manage their expectations around the process involved in joining the university.’ 

That includes apprising students of hot-button issues like housing. ‘All international students who contact us and consider enrolling receive information about housing in Groningen’, Hulshof says. ‘First of all we inform them that we don’t have a campus and that finding housing is their own responsibility.’ 

The university and municipality also clearly communicate that students who haven’t found a room by August shouldn’t come to Groningen at all. 

Will this new approach solve the problem, though? Will students no longer have to sleep on the couches of their benevolent peers?

Wrong message

Groningen Student Union (GSb) chairperson Leon van der Deure believes that the university is still intent on growth all the same. ‘It seems that the university would like to expand its student roll. It makes financial sense, but it now appears they are moving away from quantity and resorting to the quality of the students’ bank accounts.’

We expect that there will be fewer students here next year anyway

And while it’s good news the university is finally providing some sort of communication to prospective students, it sends the wrong message, he feels. ‘It’s a fair assessment on the part of the UG, but it’s really a poor message to send to students considering Groningen for their studies.’

Johannes Hütten, chair of SOG, the largest party in the university council, thinks it might work out, though. ‘We expect that there will be fewer students here next year anyway’, he says. ‘One, because of potential students waiting for changes to the Dutch student finance system to take effect, and two, because we imagine lots of young people will be making up for lost time and taking a gap year.’

However, he also believes EU students will be coming to Groningen whatever the UG does or communicates. ‘The Netherlands is increasingly an attractive option for students who want to study in English affordably’, he says. 

This means that students will still come despite advice about the graveness of the housing situation in particular. ‘I heard this from someone else in an organisational capacity, that students will still think they will be the lucky ones to find a room.’