International students in Hof van Wageningen have started discussions concerning their housing problems with the university and the hotel's management, after the students threatened to embark on a rent boycott. The university will respond today on how to improve the internet connection and cooking facilities.
The students are not convinced by Vink's opening remarks. 'We sent you a letter two or three weeks ago and haven't received a proper response.'
'But we did respond to your letter', says Jos van Kroonenburg, head of the Student Service Center. 'We wanted a discussion', retorts a student. They find the university's communication a little offensive. 'You blame us for things that aren't OK', says one student two hours later. Another: 'And we don't like to be threatened that you want to take the stoves out of our kitchen'. By then, Vink has already changed his tone of voice. 'I apologize if you feel offended by letters from the university.'
The students at the Hof van Wageningen want a better internet connection, proper shower facilities, more than three washing machines for a hundred students, and a kitchen. They also want a discount on their rent because of the poor washing, cooking and internet facilities. 'We don't want to complain, we want solutions', says one of the students. They criticize the university's bureaucratic response. 'This is worse than Greece and Spain', claim a couple of students after the meeting.
Vink and Van Kroonenburg do not have instant solutions for the students' complaints. They have to discuss possible solutions with the university's board and the hotel management and will make an offer to the students in a couple of days.
Hof van Wageningen is 'not the best we can offer', admits Vink. 'It is a temporary solution. Our first priority was to give you a roof. Last year, we had temporary rooms in a holiday camp 30 kilometres from Wageningen. Out there, you have a kitchen, shower and more privacy. Transport to Wageningen is included. We can transfer 25 students to this holiday resort. Is anyone interested?' No student raises his or her hand.
Instead, the students want to know what 'temporary' means. Will they still stay at Hof van Wageningen come Christmas? 'We understand that you cannot make rooms out of nothing, but it will be very difficult to live here for three months', says one student. The university's intention was to locate the students at Hof van Wageningen for a maximum period of eight weeks. The housing contract with the hotel ends at the end of October. But Van Kroonenburg is not sure whether all the students would have found permanent housing by then. This month, 270 international students will graduate. If all or most of them leave their rooms in Wageningen, the housing problem will be solved, says Van Kroonenburg. If not, the freshmen will have to wait a little longer. And nobody knows what the decision of these graduates will be. The students want to have a glimpse of the end of the tunnel and want the waiting list for permanent rooms to be published.
Two or three students are now staying together in one room, but privacy is not the biggest issue for them. Internet and cooking are. A proper internet connection to download files and skype with family and friends back home are considered basic facilities. Hotel manager Jaap van Veenendaal has great difficulty to keep this running. In the first four weeks, five routers have been stolen at the Brink Residence. Not all the students use proper spam filters. As a result, they are alleged to have spread viruses which block the system. Moreover, people are downloading heavy tv files on their computers, says the hotel manager. If students are more careful and the hotel raises the internet capacity, most of these problems can be resolved.
The kitchen facility is a much more complex issue. The students are not allowed to cook in the Hof van Wageningen. 'It was the hardest decision in July, when we agreed on providing temporary housing here: we don't have facilities to cook a proper meal', says Van Kroonenburg. 'There is no room for twenty to thirty stoves.' Apart from that, strict safety regulations from the local fire department have to be kept to. Yet, the eighty students attempt cooking with three or four stoves at the moment. The hotel wants to remove these. 'But not enough stoves is better than no stoves at all', says one student. 'We now organize cooking in groups.'
The students have five fridges at their disposal. These are too small and completely full. Food safety is at stake, says one student. 'I take microbiology lessons now at the university. The lecturer warns about situations like this.' The kitchen was meant for breakfast and not for dinner, says hotel manager Van Veenendaal. According to Dutch standards: milk and juice, cheese and salami and a box of eggs to go with the bread. Some students were shocked. 'This is insane! We have different gastronomic cultures. Cooking our own meal is very important for us. You can't expect us to eat in restaurants for months.' Simon Vink is looking for possible solutions. He will discuss them with a student delegation later today.
There are some bright spots, though; the hotel is improving its service. The students have complained about the showers outside the building. They do not want to walk outside to take showers. Moreover, the showers are freezing cold in the morning and quite hot in the afternoon.
Van Veenendaal will install ten new showers inside the building. They will be ready by the end of this week. In addition, the hotel management will probably improve the laundry facilities and will solve one or two privacy issues soon.