The housing problem seems to be evolving every year. What is the best solution and who is responsible to act?
It has been all over the news lately and as a student you almost couldn’t have missed it. Hundreds of students from all over the world travelled for education to our beautiful country where they arrived with big dreams but no housing! It doesn’t seem fair to be led to a city by a university (for which you actually paid a very high price) to become homeless, does it? That is why there were a lot of protests going on last summer. In Groningen for example, they occupied the Academy building owned by the university to make a statement.1 The campaign ‘Shelter our Students’ was the organization behind this protest. They try to house international students who are desperately in need of their help. This campaign got together because they already anticipated the housing crisis at the beginning of this academic year.2 Why couldn’t the government, the local authorities or the university?
Shortage of 26.500 student rooms
We have already established that there is an actual housing problem. The government as well as the university agree on this problem. The government anticipated by having a fund of 50 million euros for certain target audiences in the crumbling housing market. This fund is also meant for students so it sounds like a promising solution.3 The problem is though, that 50 million euros for everyone (!) struggling with finding a house is not nearly enough. To illustrate, the Minister of Interior and Kingdom Relations said this fund could realise 10.000 affordable homes.4 There is already a shortage of 26.500 student rooms alone.5
Also, the university and the government knew that the peak of demand would be bigger than ever before because the second-year students would move to the Netherlands for the first time due to the Covid-19
pandemic.6 With these national funds and 150 beds at an emergency shelter in Groningen it should be fine according to them. The university had 100 beds in 2020 and increased their emergency housing with only an embarrassing 50 beds in 2021 while there is a steady yearly increase of international students and an expectation of even more as explained before.7
Rights of international students
Statements were made by several universities that they wanted to control the influx of international students to avert these kinds of problems and to improve the educational resources.8 It isn’t so easy though to select students on their nationalities. Currently there is no restriction on the admission of international students.
There is no room for discrimination or turning away international students.
In other words, international students have the right to study abroad based on the general principle of non-discrimination described in articles 18 and 21 TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) for EER students and Directive 2016/801 for non-EER students.9 The difference between EER students and non-EER students is the countries they come from. Somewhat the same rules apply, but different laws. Both of which the outcome is that there is no room for discrimination or turning away international students on that basis. The International Court of Justice already agreed back in 1992.10
Universities, are they responsible?
The university has a duty of care towards her students. Only providing information on how to get a house is not enough. They must urge the students to start searching early and explain and warn the search is not an easy one.11 A lot of the students who came to the Netherlands this year weren’t prepared for the situation they arrived in. They were not properly informed, or the seriousness of the housing problem wasn’t emphasized enough.12 The University of Groningen made a statement after the occupation of the Academy building to make amends with Shelter Our Students and went into a long night of conversation with the campaign and the board of the municipality.
The statement endorses the housing problem and presses national politics to take over and to create more lawful solutions.13 Not even as a reply to this statement, the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations answered critical questions of other politicians regarding this topic just 2 weeks later. In these answers, this housing matter is called a local responsibility.14 Both are pointing to each other, so who is going to fix the problem?
As you see, this situation is far from over. Let’s hope the next chosen government will not only promise, but also do better with the housing problem.
Both are pointing to each other, so who is going to fix the problem?
1 ‘Bezetting Academiegebouw Groningen na negen uur voorbij: ‘We zijn eruit’.’ ad.nl, 9 september 2021.
3 Aanhangsel Handelingen II 2021/22, nr. 183.
4 Aanhangsel Handelingen II 2021/22, nr. 183.
5 A. Overmars, ‘Het juridisch onhoudbare verlangen van universiteiten’, NJB 2021/3021, §7.
6 Aanhangsel Handelingen II 2021/22, nr. 184.
7 ‘Piekopvang in Groningen voorbereid voor internationale studenten’ rug.nl, 8 juli 2020 en A. Overmars, ‘Het juridisch onhoudbare verlangen van universiteiten’, NJB 2021/3021, §4.
8 A. Overmars, ‘Het juridisch onhoudbare verlangen van universiteiten’, NJB 2021/3021, §5.
9 Directive (EU) 2016/801 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au pairing.
10 HvJ EU 26 februari 1992, C-357/89, ECLI:EU:C:1992:87 (Raulin).
11 A. Overmars, ‘Het juridisch onhoudbare verlangen van universiteiten’, NJB 2021/3021, §7.
12 ‘Bezetting Academiegebouw Groningen na negen uur voorbij: ‘We zijn eruit’.’ ad.nl, 9 september 2021.
13 ‘Statement over gemaakte afspraken noodopvang’ rug.nl, 21 september 2021.
14 Aanhangsel Handelingen II 2021/22, nr. 196.