An annual survey looking into the treatment and experience of international students in the Netherlands indicates that they are often treated as “second class citizens”, and more needs to be done to support them.
The Annual International Student Survey, set up and conducted by Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (the Dutch National Student Association), found that international students were not being given enough information about life in the Netherlands before arriving, and not helped enough by institutions and authorities after arrival.
“The ‘second-class’ position of international students is caused by multiple factors; their mental well-being, poor information provision on health insurance, the difficulties building a connection with Dutch students and more,” Terri van der Velden, president of ISO, told The PIE News.
Within the report, students responding from 27 different institutions in the Netherlands answered questions on key points including mental health, the Dutch healthcare system, insurance and housing.
Most students rate the information given to them by their own institutions as positive, but some parts of the Dutch government’s system for living in the Netherlands is what is causing problems among overseas students.
“A lot of government information and service is in Dutch only”
“It is very difficult as an international to orientate yourself for the first few months – a lot of government information and service is in Dutch only or in very poor incomprehensible English, making processes such as acquiring a BSN [national security ID number] almost impossible… and impossible to make a GP registration,” one student said in their response.
Another also concurred that there was not enough “specific information about how the GP system works”.
In terms of getting the correct insurance for their time in the Netherlands, almost 70% of respondents to the survey said it “wasn’t clear whether” they were required to be insured or not. One respondent said they received a €450 fine because they were not told they had the wrong insurance.
In addition, almost 70% of the group asked were not aware that a Dutch student loan is available to international students, as well as a public transportation discount – but only if you work more than 56 hours in a month.
Some 38% of respondents said they had a part-time job during their studies, but not many were the full-degree bachelor students that make up almost 60% of the group – given how hard it is, the report states, to keep up with a job during full-time study.
Another difficulty found in the survey, and perhaps the most pressing for all students, both domestic and international in the Netherlands, is finding housing.
The Netherlands is currently suffering a heavy housing crisis, that has grown so severe that the government is currently considering stopping giving asylum seekers residency permits until they can find housing, which is generally in short supply.
“This is true for both Dutch and non-Dutch students. The Netherlands as a whole has been facing a housing crisis for several years now. Sadly, scammers do take advantage of this,” van der Velden said.
One respondent’s experience listed in the survey said it was “difficult for us [internationals] because there are many scams and they probably target international students”, while another said it’s difficult “when you don’t have a job; there is high demand; too many scammers online and overall a very stressful period”.
Furthermore, over 85% of respondents were not aware of somewhere they could go for legal help when such a situation arises.
In terms of mental health, the majority of international students surveyed said they suffer from mental health problems – and more than a quarter do not feel at home in the Netherlands.
“Time and again it is proven how bad the state of student welfare is. These figures show that international students are no exception – it is distressing to see that we are unable to make this group feel at home,” said Van der Velden.
One encouraging finding was that students overwhelmingly say that they felt safe while studying in the country, with many responding to the question about safety and travel time with “very positive”.
“We were really glad that this report did not only show negatives about studying and living in the Netherlands. This shows that even while studying in the Netherlands has a lot of difficulties, it is still worth it in other ways to these students. Although we do not know if this outweighs the negatives for most students,” van der Velden commented.
ISO says that investment in access to mental health care for international students should be looked at, and both institutions and policymakers should be making sure this access is open and fair.
“Time and again it is proven how bad the state of student welfare is”
Additionally, ISO recommends that an “integrated housing policy” be put in place for incoming students, with many signals “currently indicating” that housing is not in order.
To stop students feeling as if they’re “second class citizens”, as Van der Velden currently describes it, more than just a few recommendations need to be filled – an overhaul may be necessary.
It is hard to pinpoint what needs to happen to get international students a “first-class” position, she added.
“Integration between non-Dutch and Dutch students could be stimulated, by, for example point initiatives like BuddyGoDutch out to them. And, as in most cases, universities could pay extra attention to their international students through better guidance by student counsellors,” she concluded.
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