Internationalizing UvA: We’re encouraged to move here, but how are we supposed to stay?

The University of Amsterdam, and many other universities in the Netherlands, have been adding an increasing amount of English programmes in the past years. Many faculties are following this path of internationalization and now offer the option to follow certain programs in either Dutch or English. This, along with UvA’s outstanding ranking in many subjects, has led Amsterdam to increasingly attract foreign students every year.

An article has been published in Folia recently, in which it is mentioned that this is the first year that the UvA has had more applicants from outside the EU than from the EU and the Netherlands combined. And while these changes have been made largely because the University wants to increase its budget, the changes in Amsterdam’s demography will affect the rest of Dutch society in substantial and potentially unforeseen ways.

“It is no secret that students who come from outside the EU have to pay substantially higher tuition fees, usually about four times more than a person who was born in the Netherlands. The university is hoping to use this money in order to continue funding smaller departments within faculties…”

It is no secret that students who come from outside the EU have to pay substantially higher tuition fees, usually about four times more than a person who was born in the Netherlands. The university is hoping to use this money in order to continue funding smaller departments within faculties, such as Anthropology and Sociology. This can be justified to an extent because there are certain departments that get fewer applications every year. Taking Sociology as an example, the number of applicants has almost doubled after introducing the possibility to study in English.  

The influx of diverse students with different backgrounds should also contribute to more lively discussions, since diversity adds perspective. People coming from different countries have different views on issues and global developments, and sharing them with other classmates should contribute to everyone’s development as a critical thinker.

However, universities do not exist in isolation, and their policies do not only affect students. They influence other areas of society, such as housing in urban areas and the labor market. Since there is rarely a threshold that students have to meet in order to participate in the desired programme, their numbers are increasing rapidly. This has led to a massive housing shortage, as the local government has failed to meet the housing needs of both international and Dutch students.

“Students having trouble finding places to stay, living in hotels and Airbnb’s, or even being flat-out homeless for a certain amount of time have all become everyday occurrences in this city.”

According to some rough numbers, Amsterdam is facing a shortage of about 12,000 student rooms. Students having trouble finding places to stay, living in hotels and Airbnb’s, or even being flat-out homeless for a certain amount of time have all become everyday occurrences in this city. Not to mention the fact that even if one is able to find accommodation, there is a chance it will not be satisfactory in terms of living conditions. Weesperflats has seen multiple break-ins due to faulty locks and broken doors, which has been ignored by the owning company. Students also report feeling unsafe in many other dorms in Amsterdam. Precisely because the internationalization is not coordinated properly, its delivery is sloppy and causes more trouble than it should.

The internationalization of universities also calls for internationalization of the labor market, at least to some extent. The international labor force that opts to stay in Amsterdam after completing their studies is growing, and they have to be able to acquire the capabilities needed to function in this society.

“If you expect someone who has moved halfway across the world to pay large amounts of money and go through an insane amount of effort in order to be able to participate in activities, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

In my experience, there is surprisingly little being offered to internationals that would genuinely help them become active members of the Dutch society and university life. Many student organizations, even if they organize activities in English, are often closed to internationals, as all internal communication is conducted in Dutch, which it seems, they do not intend to change. Dutch classes are often not affordable or even offered to students. If you expect someone who has moved halfway across the world to pay large amounts of money and go through an insane amount of effort in order to be able to participate in activities, you are setting yourself up for failure. The more realistic consequence that occurs is one we can already observe. There is a fast-growing niche of internationals, and they have formed their own circles and organizations using the resources they have. Sadly, these two worlds rarely seem to mix, which clashes with the perspective-sharing goal of diversification mentioned earlier.

Reading opinion articles in a Dutch newspaper, I notice a lot of critique and discussion about whether universities should be more international. It has almost become a moral issue, a discussion about whether it can be justified to have so many foreign students and on whether Dutch students should conform to having a large number of compulsory English classes or not.

This is not the question anymore, it is already happening, and the number of international students will only grow from this point on. The quality of education demands huge investments, and UvA will only be able to keep up with international standards and keep its outstanding rankings in some subjects if it can attract foreign students. In order to prevent layoffs and serious budget cuts in some departments, international students have to be able to study here. In an ideal world, institutions would not be driven by a neoliberal, free-market logic. Institutions would be working to people’s benefit. Education is, sadly, just one of the areas where this logic is taking over. In an ideal world, universities wouldn’t have mass expansion as a goal, and they would not be treated like businesses. But we do not live in that world, and thinking we do will only bring us further away from devising a system that works out well for both sides.

 

Nevena Vracar is a sociology Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

Hi there! My name is Nevena and I am a 22-year-old student currently in the second year of a sociology bachelor at the University of Amsterdam. I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I’ve moved here about three years ago. I am a part of the opinion section of the Amsterdammer and my columns focus mostly on my experience as an international and studying abroad.

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