As of 1 May, students are able to register for short-stay lets for the upcoming academic year through SSH student housing. It looks like Utrecht University will once again increase its intake of international students. Lenn Lamkin, policy adviser at the International Office, says, 'We are quite pleased with this, but it also poses a challenge. Although we make it very clear that we cannot guarantee housing for everyone, we want students to feel at home and settle down quickly.'
While the overall size of UU's student body has remained stable over the past few years, the share of international students has increased. At the moment, 8% of students are from outside the Netherlands, but this number is set to increase gradually in the next few years due to Utrecht's popularity.
For international students who have just arrived in the Netherlands, the first order of business is to find a place to live. As a result, there is a peak in the demand for accommodation at very short notice, particularly in September. 'We recognise that finding a place to live is difficult if you do not know the country or the city,' Lamkin says. 'That is why we provide a considerable amount of information to students at the recruitment and application stage as to how to go about finding housing. We also stress the importance of searching independently and starting your search in good time, well in advance of the summer break.'
Over the past year, we have reviewed the texts on the website in consultation with international students. Jessica Winters, head of marketing, explains that 'Our aim is to give an accurate and clear impression.' For this reason, a decision was made to shift the focus of the information provision and recruitment activities. 'We no longer focus on quantity, but on attracting the right students in terms of prior education and motivation. For example, we now send counsellors or representatives directly to top international schools and universities to recruit students, rather than to large-scale education fairs.'
The university sets aside as much housing as possible for international students. As UU guarantees payment of the rent for unused accommodation after an international tenant moves out and before a new one moves in, the Executive Board has freed up additional funds. 'However, the main problem nowadays is simply the lack of sufficient housing,' Lamkin warns. 'Last year, we had 770 rooms to let. Thanks to an agreement with a new party, we expect to be able to increase that number this year. We depend on new housing developments by property developers and corporations in which we can reserve a share for international students, but I hope we will ultimately have 900 rooms available. After all, Dutch students should also be able to find a place to live.'
The City of Utrecht is also well aware of the need for more student housing. Between 2010 and 2017, it built 3,300 rooms and studio apartments for students, with plans to add another 3,861 before 2021. Furthermore, Utrecht University is keen to house more students at USP De Uithof, to which end it aims to amend the area's zoning plan. According to Lamkin, 'SSH student housing has also realised the urgency of the need to house international students. For example, they have rolled out a successful pilot using Skype interviews, so that international students can apply for a room in a house with other students while still abroad.'
All hands on deck
'For both the short and the long term, it remains a case of all hands on deck,' according to Lamkin. The municipal authorities are looking into refurbishing office buildings and the possibility of housing international students in the soon-to-be-empty asylum seekers' centre on Einsteindreef. 'We are doing our utmost to induce students who go abroad to sublet their rooms to visiting students, as experience has shown that living with students of many different nationalities is a uniquely rewarding experience. We are also allocating additional staff and new resources, such as WhatsApp, to better help students find accommodation during the summer months. Last but not least, we will be reserving temporary rooms in Stayokay and other hostels for the critical first month after the start of the academic year.'
Meeting interesting people
All parties realise that reaching a permanent solution to the housing conundrum is not a sprint, but a marathon. Lamkin stresses the need to go all out to find accommodation for our guests. As for herself, she leaves no stone unturned. 'I remember receiving a call last year from a lady in Maarssen, who had read an article in daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad and rang to say she had a whole floor to rent for an international student. I followed it up straight away. Each student we can help find a nice and affordable place to live is already a small victory, and as a bonus, all involved have a chance of meeting interesting people.'