The perennial problem of housing in Wageningen
The SSHW can accommodate most of the new foreign students in its apartment buildings. The Dean's Office functions as an active intermediary for foreign students in obtaining proper housing and is able to inform the SSHW of the number of students well in advance. Allotment of rooms is organised according to the same procedure for both Dutch and foreign students, although Dutch students can indicate a preference for the type of room they would like to rent, whereas foreign students cannot. SSHW now has three corridors occupied by 50% Dutch and 50% foreign students, two in Bornsesteeg and one in Dijkgraaf. This started some three years ago as an experiment, and has turned out to be a success. Mr van Alphen, head of tenants' affairs of the SSHW explains: At the time we were renovating student apartment buildings and these two corridors were made temporarily available for students who had to leave their own rooms during the renovation. After delivery these two corridors were
empty and we decided to go ahead with the experiment."
Both Dean Janine Hermans and Ms Ankie Lamberts from the Dean's office are in favour of the idea of accommodating foreign and Dutch students together. The SSHW is willing to expand the amount of equally mixed corridors but so far they have failed to live up to their intentions. As van Alphen points out: Some time ago we held an inquiry among Dutch students to assess their willingness to live in such a mixed corridor. The outcome was, however, disappointing. We believe that allotment of these rooms should be on a voluntary basis in order for it to work." It appears that especially older students and students who have been abroad for their practical period or thesis research are more willing to share facilities with foreign students than their younger colleagues. Lamberts shares: It is really a pity, but on the other hand I can understand the position of younger students. Starting their studies in Wageningen and living away from home for the first time is an entirely n
ew experience as well. I can imagine that they are more busy exploring their new life and not specifically keen on living on a mixed corridor. On the other hand, a student who is the only foreigner on the corridor can often feel very lonely and left out." An important point on the International Student Panel's (ISP) agenda last year was that there should always be at least two foreign students living in one wing. However this point was the first to reappear on the agenda at the ISP meeting last Saturday.
Dean Hermans continues: The group of students bringing their partners and children to Wageningen, is the group most difficult to accommodate. At this moment we have 10 families on the waiting list." Often students are obliged to bring their family with them for financial, religious or cultural reasons. The Dutch authorities will not supply partners with the necessary residence permits if they do not have appropriate accommodation at their disposal. Van Alphen explains: The SSHW is not set up to accommodate families. At the moment we are looking into the possibilities to create accommodation for foreign students who bring their families over to Wageningen. At Bornsesteeg it would be possible to create two-room apartments out of two separate rooms. However, this idea is still in an initial phase." The two-room apartments with shared kitchen at Haarweg rarely become available as usually only one of the two students leaves. Besides a very limited number of former official
University residences the SSHW has no proper housing available for families. Dean Hermans shares: For accommodating families we have to rely on the Woningstichting. It is sometimes difficult to match supply and demand and to please everybody. We realize that the foreign students are only a small group out of the many customers of both housing associations. We have good working agreements with both the SSHW and the Woningstichting, and I believe we are on the right track."
Smoothing out the creases
Mr van der Ven of the Woningstichting outlines their policy: In Wageningen there is still a severe housing shortage, and a waiting list of about 2,000 people. We simply cannot make an exception for foreign students in our overall policy. However, it would be ridiculous to put families on a six year waiting list if they are looking for accommodation for the next two years only. Fortunately, in cooperation with the Dean's office, we can help some of the families, since they are often entitled to a declaration of urgency. At this moment we house between 20 and 30 foreign students with their families." As van der Ven points out: We have managed to overcome a lot of practical problems by improving the quality of assistance to foreign clients. Six months ago we introduced a procedure whereby caretakers are accompanied by members of our office staff when handing over an apartment to new tenants." It appeared that a lot of problems were related to misunderstanding a
nd lack of communication. The caretakers' English language skills are often limited, and the tenants are confronted with a whole range of new rules and regulations which need clarification. Van der Ven concludes: We have managed to smooth a lot of creases in the past few years and we hope we can continue to do so."