Student Housing, an international perspective

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22 sep Student Housing, an international perspective

About International Student Housing in Groningen

My name is Philippe. I am a German bachelor student and I have been in Groningen for two years.
My time here in the Netherlands has been amazing so far and I feel very comfortable to be
surrounded by so many nationalities and cultures. Many of my friends are living in international
student houses and when I visit them, they always tell me about the bad conditions. But what is
actually going on? This article should give an overview of the most relevant issues regarding
international student housing in Groningen.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that living in an international student house can be one of the best
experiences ever for young internationals. When young people from all over the world leave their
home countries and live together in large buildings with common rooms and shared kitchens, the
result will be a hotspot for creativity, energy and awesome parties! Those conditions are a great,
but unfortunately the many problems within these student houses often dominate the students’
experiences. It is also important to say that international students often have very different
expectations and of course it is impossible to satisfy every single student that comes to the
Netherlands.

In total, 25% of international students (most exchange students) live in student houses. Since
January 2015, most international student houses are rented by the SSH (Stichting
Studentenhuisvesting), who took over the former ‘Housing Office’. Although there has been
improvement, the students are complaining about multiple issues. The most relevant seem to be
‘price’, ‘quality’ and ‘communication with the housing cooperation’. Additionally, there are many
concerns about the contract students have to sign. Further (minor) issues are information, safety
and location.
Price of Student Housing
Prices differ for each student house. International students, living with the SSH, pay in average €385
monthly. The average room size is 24 m2. The prize includes not only the rent, but also cleaning
costs, furniture, repairing costs and more. Renting a room in the private market is therefore
cheaper in average. Again, the expectations of students for reasonable prizes differ widely, but
most of them would expect student housing (promoted by the university) to be the cheapest option.
A good example is what a student wrote about the SSH, in response to a recent survey:
“Student houses are meant to be an opportunity for students to live somewhere CHEAPER. This is
definitely not the case, more the opposite. Even if the size of the room is quite big, the price is
higher here than anywhere else.”

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Quality of Student Housing
Quality is the most discussed issue. The opinions about acceptable quality are diverse. Some
students are happy with an unfurnished room and basic facilities, others expect higher standards
such as furniture, cleaning service, security and noise reduction. Internet is often a main factor too.
Of course, quality and price are linked, as a student has summarised it:
“To expensive for the facilities we have. No permanent solution for the internet problem, cleaning
duties both from students and cleaners not done, too much noise not stopped, over 20 bikes got
stolen, still no security cameras, low number of working washing machines and driers.”
Looking at the statements of many students, it often sounds like they are living in the most
dramatic conditions imaginable. However, when comparing old student houses and new built
student houses, it shows that students living in the new houses (e.g. Frascati at Stationsplein)
complain much less about quality. Accordingly, the SSH has certainly improved the quality
standards already. In order to further tackle the problem, the University of Groningen and the
Hanze University of Applied Science have recently started a task force to define quality indicators.
Communication with the Housing Cooperation
Another commonly reported problem is that students do not feel taken seriously. Students usually
address complaints to the Residence Assistant (RA) who lives in the same building. The RA is
supposed to be contact person and forwards complaints to the housing cooperation (such as
SSH). Experience shows, that the RA often advises students to contact the housing cooperation
directly. However, students seem to be frustrated about the way their complaints are handled. They
are often send from one person to an other and no one seems to take responsibility. Emails are
frequently ignored and it takes too long until complaints are processed. Going to the SSH office
directly also doesn’t seem to work. A student complaints:
“Whenever a problem arises the responsible office does not want to hear it. They kick you out of
the office.”
Contract
Furthermore, many students are surprised by the ‘short-stay’ contract they have to sign. This
contract generally treats the SSH like a hotel so that the rooms do not fall under certain rental
protection laws. It is, for instance, not possible to perform rent checks to determine if students are
paying too much. Furthermore, students cannot live with the SSH longer than 12 months and it is
also not possible to end the lease earlier than agreed. The strict contract has to do with the
agreement between the SSH and the universities. The universities can demand a number of rooms
that is needed for international students each semester, but if any of these rooms stay empty the
universities will have to pay for it. As a consequence, students feel trapped by the contract. An
upset student writes about the SSH:
“I think they only want to earn money and take advantage of the signed contract and that we are
students.”
This statement includes a common misconception, since the SSH is a non-profit organisation and
does not produce any long term revenues.

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Panel discussion May 19th
After analysing the currently most relevant problems, it is time to talk about solutions. Many actions
have been taken over the past years but it shows that most stakeholders involved in the topic do
not know much about each other. To create a foundation for possible problem solutions, it was
therefore necessary to bring all stakeholders together at one table.
On May 19th, the municipality of Groningen organised a panel discussion about International
Student Housing in Groningen. The goal was to create a basis for a fruitful conversation, to discuss
current problems and generate possible solutions. Among the 23 attendees were representatives
of SSH, Gemeente Groningen, RUG, Hanze UAS, student associations, university newspaper and
6 international students. The meeting was a good way for the attendees to share their
perspectives. On one side, the SSH could explain the difficulties they face since the takeover in
January 2015, on the other side the students were able to express their concerns and finally felt
taken seriously. The event took place at the Frascati building, one of the newest international
student houses.
At the end, the results of the discussion were presented to alderman Roeland van der Schaaf. The
panel mainly talked about the topics ‘price’, ‘quality’ and ‘information provision’. It showed that the
participants had difficulties to clearly define what ‘quality’ means and agreed that certain indicators
should be defined. It was also emphasised that international students have diverse expectations
about prices and living standards, whereon the students explained their difficulties to find
information about housing before arriving in Groningen. Everyone agreed that the provision of
more clear and useful information will help international students to know what to expect. It was
suggested to improve the information website of the ‘International Welcome Center North’. The
panel also talked about using a “buddy-system” where prospective students can get information
from students who are already in Groningen.
How to continue?
If the panel discussion met its goal to create a basis for solutions will become apparent in the
future. Fact is that the amount of international students in Groningen is continuously growing and
‘internationalisation’ becomes increasingly important. The mix of cultures combined with the openminded
dutch mentality is what makes Groningen so special in my eyes. I hope that many
internationals will decide to come to Groningen in the future and that the housing situation for
international students will further improve.

1Reactie
  • Fabilia
    Geplaatst op 09:37h, 23 mei Beantwoorden

    Would you reccomend exchange students to rent a room via ssh? or should I rent from others instead?

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