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Survey highlights challenges for foreign students in the Netherlands

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    • A survey of foreign students in the Netherlands highlights that many struggle to connect with their Dutch peers
    • Significant percentages of survey respondents also reported challenges with housing and mental health

A newly released survey of international students in the Netherlands finds that many struggle to find housing and to connect with their Dutch peers.

The survey was released earlier this month by three national student associations: the National Student Union (ISO), the Dutch Student Union (LSVb), and the Erasmus Student Network Nederland (ESN).

It draws on responses from just over 1,000 foreign students enrolled in Dutch universities – 66% from within the EU and 34% from outside of Europe – for a few key observations.

  • Roughly three in four of the survey respondents said that they would like more contact with their Dutch peers, and that they struggle to make connections with Dutch nationals.
  • More than 70% reported problems with student housing, and nearly half (44%) said that housing was a source of stress.
  • Four in ten respondents reported high levels of stress or other psychological problems during their studies.

The three student associations are calling on Dutch educators and other stakeholders to step up settlement and support services for visiting students. As the chair of ESN Netherlands, Lupe Flores Zuñiga, observed on the report’s release, “Internationalisation can be a huge enrichment for Dutch society and the economy, but that is only possible if the students are welcomed.”

The associations’ recommendations include:

  • Expanded Dutch language training for foreign students;
  • Increased opportunities for international students to work with Dutch peers on collaborative group projects;
  • Greater efforts to encourage foreign student participation in student life and campus activities;
  • Improved guidance and housing support for incoming students;
  • Establish an inventory of temporary, transitional housing that can accommodate newly arrived students during a search for permanent housing;
  • Increased investment in purpose-built student housing stock;
  • Expanded mental health supports for international students; and
  • Improved career counselling and employment supports.

“International students are actively recruited,” adds Carline van Breugel of LSVb. “But when they arrive in the Netherlands there are often no affordable homes, they don’t get Dutch lessons and they find it difficult to connect with fellow Dutch students.”

In a related development, LSVb has also released a separate report on housing for foreign students, and has established a dedicated hotline service for student complaints around housing.

Growing numbers

The LSVb/ISO/ESN survey findings have been released in the context of steady growth in foreign student enrolment in the Netherlands. Earlier this year, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education – Nuffic – highlighted a further increase in international student numbers for 2018/19.

Nuffic reports that the total number of visiting students in the country reached 122,000 last year, with nearly 90,000 of those enrolled in full degree programmes. This represents a 12% year-over-year increase and marks more than a decade of sustained growth in foreign enrolment in Dutch universities.

Along with the natural challenges of managing such growth, we should note that the issues highlighted in the Dutch survey could be fairly attributed to many study destinations around the world. In that sense, they do not describe a problem, or set of problems, that are specific to the Netherlands. Rather, they underscore the importance of continuing investments and improvements in student support services, including housing.

Speaking to the Dutch newspaper Trouw, university association spokesperson Bart Pierik said that institutions in the Netherlands are working hard to support international students. He stressed that universities focus on internationalising the classroom, and adds that efforts are also being made to expand student housing. Mr Pierik notes that the University of Amsterdam, for example, already offers 2,600 housing spaces to foreign students and has plans to add another 3,000 student housing units for the coming academic year.

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