Groningen was all over the news on Saturday evening. The NOS evening newscast aired a segment on the dramatic lack of rooms for international students. Suddenly, a shot of a website appeared where landlords can post their room vacancies. The site included the option to specify that a room was for Dutch tenants only and that internationals need not apply. That came as quite a shock.
By Hans de Preter
Can it really be permissible to list rooms that explicitly exclude foreign applicants? In our view, this feels like a step too far. Of course it is ultimately up to the person renting out the room to decide who will get it, but to shut out non-Dutch applicants from even applying is something altogether different.
Providing rental accommodations is an economic activity, just like offering any other product or service. Fundamentally speaking, it is the same as a baker selling a loaf of bread. But do you know of any bakers in Groningen with a sign posted in their shop stating that they will only sell to Dutch people? I certainly can’t think of any. So why would this be any different when it comes to renting out a room?
Hundreds of international students are coming to Groningen, and that is only making the city an even better place to live. Restaurants are getting better, and students are good for the economy: they spend their money in the shops, on public transport, at bike shops and pay instructor’s wages. The fact that there are some many students coming to the city is also financially attractive to landlords because demand means that they feel emboldened to charge “attractive” rent for their rooms.
The increasingly international student body also means that Groningen is becoming a world city on par with Amsterdam or Cambridge, full of talented students who we would love to have stick around and find work in the burgeoning IT sector in the region.
It goes without saying that the quality of education to Dutch students should not suffer as a result of these changes. Attention has rightly been drawn by the minister of education and the University of Groningen to maintaining high academic standards for Dutch and foreign students alike.
That was why it was especially heartening to see that Dutch-speaking students in Groningen are coming together and expressing solidarity with their fellow students from abroad by trying to help them find temporary and long-term accommodations.
The efforts by the Dutch students are truly commendably and deserve a tip of the hat, but websites with the option to exclude international applicants deserve a wag of the finger.
Hans de Preter is the editor of the Groninger Internet Courant, the first online newspaper in Groningen which was founded in 1997.