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‘Think what you want to do about international students before developing your housing policy’

Students used to live with a landlady or even with the professor whose course they were taking. Student accommodation has since become more professional, making it something the new government will have to tackle. What should the new government do?

From campus to cabinet

The Netherlands will vote for a new government on 22 November. According to the polls, the key issues in these elections are healthcare, housing, livelihood security, immigration and asylum, the climate and sustainability. Which aspects should a new government bear in mind? Our researchers reflect on this in a series of articles.

Eefke de Haan is doing a PhD on the history of student accommodation in the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to today. ‘At the start of the academic year you always see horror stories about students living in tents and caravans on campsites’, she says. ‘It’s good to keep in mind that this is the peak time. The Kences annual national student housing monitor shows that in the 2022-2023 academic year, 82% of the students had found housing after a six-month active search.’

‘Still a need for student accommodation’

The majority of students looking for a room find one within a reasonable amount of time but that does not make the situation ideal. ‘The pressure on the student housing market has eased somewhat in the past year’, says De Haan. ‘Universities of applied sciences in particular are experiencing a decline in student numbers, while the loan system and the increased pressure to succeed have meant that students have stayed living at home longer in recent years. But there is still huge demand for student accommodation. That is why, in an action plan, student housing providers, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the student union and the university cities have agreed to build 60,000 new student units by 2030. I think they need to implement that at least.’

Housing benefit

The new government would also be wise, says De Haan, to continue to focus on housing benefits. At present, only students in self-contained units receive these government benefits. Students who live in rooms in shared accommodation have to pay the rent out of their own pocket. ‘More and more self-contained units are being built for students’, says De Haan. ‘This development is not necessarily because student demand has increased. Realising self-contained units is attractive for student housing providers because it’s easier to fund these through the housing benefit system.’

The student housing market thus created mainly meets the needs of students who are further on in their studies. ‘They often have a greater need for privacy’, says De Haan, ‘for instance because they are in a relationship or want to study a bit faster.’ Less account is taken of the average first-year student. ‘Rooms with shared facilities remain particularly interesting for students who are just starting out. It’s easier to make friends, isn’t it? Then you could say: pay housing benefits to students renting rooms in shared accommodation but then you risk private landlords increasing their prices. So the discussion on who should receive housing benefit definitely needs to continue under the new government.’

Internationals have different needs

Another question the government should ask, says De Haan, is for whom the student accommodation is exactly. ‘International students often need housing straight away’, she explains. ‘Unlike Dutch students, they can’t carry on living at home for a while or stay with someone they know. With the current discussion on the internationalisation of education, I think it would be wise to think first about what kinds of students you want to attract and what this means for your accommodation before you start making big decisions about the next step in housing policy, as has happened in the past.’ 

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