While current students are hard at work at the end of this academic year, studying for exams or finishing their graduation thesis – and best of luck to you all! – a new cohort of Dutch and international students is already eager to get started.
Each year, those incoming students represent a wide range of backgrounds, including first-generation students, students from the region and international students. This diverse student population enhances the quality of education. After all, you do not study on your own; students learn with and from each other. Their various backgrounds help them shed light on current issues from their own perspectives.
Recently, internationalisation of the student population has been in the spotlight at universities. Although – according to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, among others – having students come here is good for society and the knowledge economy, there are also concerns due to increased student numbers. These include concerns about the capacity of lecture halls, the workload and the shortage of student housing. In the spring, the minister asked universities to refrain from visiting international recruitment fairs that attract potential students looking for suitable study programmes. We at Radboud University complied with that request. However, we cannot yet say what the impact of this will be on enrolments.
It is not yet clear what the minister thinks higher education should do to prevent bottlenecks around internationalisation. In May, the minister sent a letter about this to the House of Representatives. At first glance, the letter seems clear, but the details raise so many questions that the policy will remain unchanged for the upcoming academic year.
Clearly, there is a housing crisis, and this makes it difficult for students to find accommodation. We at Radboud University continue to actively discuss this with our housing partners and the municipality. Since the end of 2022, Hospi Housing has also been operating in Nijmegen. They are already up and running in several other student cities, where they actively promote guest room rental as a sustainable and social solution to the room shortage. We also refer students to Guest House Nijmegen.
We also work closely with our housing partner SSH& (Nijmegen Students Accommodation Foundation). If all goes according to the current schedule, SSH& will offer 150 new student housing units on campus by the end of the 2023 calendar year. Preparations for this are in full swing. This will provide more space for the 2024–2025 academic year. Starting from that year, we also will adjust the policy for room placements for international students. But the limited supply forces us to make tough choices.
Currently, we only mediate in finding rooms for international students for their first year in Nijmegen. However, in today’s limited housing market, students are not always able to find a room on their own within a year. This causes stress, and some students are out on the street after a year. We want to prevent that. In the interest of student wellbeing, from the 2024–2025 academic year onwards, the university will mediate in finding rooms for the nominal duration of the study programme, but we can only do so for exchange students and international students on one- or two-year Master’s programmes. International Bachelor’s students will continue to be made aware of regular options for accommodation. In addition, they will now have the opportunity to join the draw at SSH& as early as June, provided they have a university admission authorisation. Previously, they could only do so starting in July with proof of registration. This extra month gives students more time and opportunity to hopefully find a room in time, although some will fail.
In that case, we advise them NOT to come to Nijmegen. While that is certainly frustrating for those students, we also hope this will provide more clarity and peace of mind for our students.
I sincerely hope that later in September we will be able to say: “Once again it was a challenge, but with everyone’s efforts we managed it as well as we could!”
Agnes Muskens is vice president of Radboud University's Executive Board. Members of the Executive Board each write a column regularly.