With a population density that’s the fifth highest in Europe (after such outliers as Monaco and Vatican City), housing in the Netherlands has been a challenging issue for its permanent residents for a long time.
Over the past decade, however, the Netherlands has also become a popular destination for international students thanks to a strong academic reputation, reasonable study costs and an increasing number of courses being offered in English. The latest figures from Statistics Netherlands shows that over 115,000 international students were enrolled on courses in the 2021/22 academic year – 3.5 times higher than just 6 years previously.
The pressure to house and care for international students has been immense and has cause rifts at both a local and national government level as politicians seek to balance the economic benefits of international students with the needs and demands of the local (voting) populations.
The chronic shortage of adequate student housing in the Netherlands has had a significant impact on all students, but particularly those travelling from overseas who are often blocked from accommodation marked ‘Dutch only’, and some students have even found themselves homeless as a result.
In 2021 the situation in Groningen was so severe that tents had to be erected to accommodate students while a more permanent solution was sought. Students have also been subject to rental scams, and reports have even been heard of some unscrupulous landlords demanding sex from students before allowing them to rent apartments. More recently, international students planning to enrol at certain universities for 2022 entry have been told simply not to come unless they have already secured accommodation at their chosen destination.
In an effort to address the worsening situation, the Dutch government introduced a National Student Housing Action Plan, which includes an ambition to add 60,000 beds by 2030. The scheme will require a great degree of collaboration between local government, universities, developers and private capital. Nevertheless it remains unclear whether even this will be sufficient to meet demand in 8 years’ time at current growth rates.
In the meantime universities in the Netherlands find themselves under political pressure to reduce international student recruitment. MP, Dennis Wiersma of the FvD has been particularly outspoken, and has repeatedly argued for a cap on numbers, claiming the current system “jeopardises” the quality of education and takes places that should go to Dutch students. Others, such as Ingred van Engelshoven prefer the idea of raising fees for international students and making Dutch lessons mandatory to manage demand and encourage cultural cohesion.
And while most of the Netherlands’ largest municipalities have signed off on the action plan, local resistance in certain areas is still evident. It remains to be seen whether the Action Plan marks the beginning of the end of the student housing crisis in the Netherlands, or whether it will become just one more footnote in this long-running saga.