06 October 2021

VU, stop attracting international students


Internationalising study programmes is occuring at the cost of the precarious living conditions of international students. VU, stop the internationalization as long as the housing situation in Amsterdam is not getting any better, finds student Salma Bel Lahdab.

Days after the student housing protest at the VU campus square, my mind was in a state of hangover. Getting students mobilized is energetically very costly, I thought for myself.  But I don’t regret having put my soul and my energy into it. I have learned that “making noise” pays off. A talk with the executive board of the VU and the International Office has been scheduled a day before the protest, together with the board members of the SRVU, Joep van Dijk and Pieter van Rossum. Taking action pays off because we got the attention of the VU executive board and the International Office. The thoughts and the reflections about that talk came after my aftermath state. I started reflecting on the root of the problem here.

Currently, there are more than 230 VU international students who are looking for a stable place to live, hopping on and off from one hostel to another, from couch to couch. What is causing this problem? I've kept on asking myself after I have spent four months looking for a stable place to live. And I have kept on digging in for more answers. Certainly, there is a housing crisis in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, especially, is experiencing a housing shortage. We could, of course, blame this on the real estate agents, the government, capitalism and how unequal is the world. But let’s look at the cause of this problem at the local level, the VU-wise level.

Ten years ago, people working in the educational office already saw this problem coming. The internationalization of study programmes kept attracting international students to the VU. At the same time, the housing situation in Amsterdam was not getting any better. To add to this problem, the international students experience discrimination when it comes to replying to housing advertisements, as an extra difficulty for them to get housing. And of course, the International Office does not get enough room for international students. However, the VU gets higher tuition fees from international students, especially from those applying from non-EU countries. Over the years, these factors were getting together in a melting pot. Until this year. This housing crisis among international students got to blow up in the face of ... the VU executive board? Of the International Office?

Yes, they are responsible for the precarious living situation of international students. It is not a question anymore that the VU is actively recruiting international students. Investing in marketing strategies to make the VU an international community is the survival mechanism that the university, together with other Dutch universities, are recurring to sustain the budget cuts on education. This growth, caused by the internationalization of Dutch study programmes, is occurring at the cost of the precarious living situation of international students. As an alternative to help those students, the International Office is offering a room in The Generator Hostel for 1000 euro per month without a kitchen and laundry at your own cost, with the possibility to stay until the month of December. This arrangement excludes tourist taxes, of course.

However, the unsustainable number of foreign students is not how the VU executive board is visioning the growth of international students at the VU. I perfectly remember the words during our meeting with the VU executive board and the International Office: “We want to grow and that’s good because it means that the students are choosing for us.” As an international student, I do not regret having come to the Netherlands, I do not regret choosing to study at the VU. What I, certainly, did not choose was the uncertainty of getting a stable place to live. If the VU chooses to be an international-friendly university, they also must choose for taking care of their students by being honest with them and taking responsibility of their housing situation in times of crisis.

Salma Bel Lahdab is student in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology and one of the initiators of the protest #NoRoomForUs.


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