Wetenschap - 29 november 2001

Student corridors not always appreciated

Student corridors not always appreciated

PhD students miss their families

A large number of the international PhD students do most of their research in their home countries but come to Wageningen two or three times for a few months to study literature and work on their research proposal and dissertation. Many regret that it is practically impossible to bring their family with them. They don't always find life in a student flat easy either. "You have to manage alone," says one of them.

Shuku Pun, PhD student in the Irrigation and Water Engineering group recently discussed problems with several other PhD students. Many appear to face the same difficulties. Their stay in Wageningen is often too short to get really settled. "The department secretary hasn't got time to help you with everything. You have to manage alone," says Pun. As they don't know the way, these PhD students often end up working through the weekends too.

Pun: "Being here on your own is hard as it is, in a new environment and struggling with the English language. But when you have had to leave your loved ones behind, life is even harder. Especially mothers miss their children. You can't explain to young children why you're going to be gone for a few months. Besides you have to find someone to look after them." The students find it difficult to understand why the university doesn't make arrangements so that they can always bring their families if they want to.

Ram Acharya, the representative for foreign PhD students of the WIMEK research school, has heard similar stories. "These students are generally over 30, so many of them have families. We noticed that the allowances these PhD students receive are generally too low to meet the income requirements of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) to enable their family to accompany them."

Stan van Heijst, secretary Dean Wageningen Graduate School, explains that the family problem is beyond the university's reach. "The bureaucracy of the Dutch government is responsible for the rules regarding visas. The university is only allowed to help a student who is eligible for a shortened procedure. If we raise the allowance of the sandwich scholarships for example we would have to invite fewer students." More students bringing their families brings about new difficulties. Van Heijst: "Student housing is still focused on single students. The university has not yet started to plan for the fact that students have families."

Housing is one issue. Pun: "I live on an international corridor in a student flat. Even though it's good for my English and the kitchens are fully equipped with TV, fridge and everything, you must be quite socialised to be able to live on a corridor." Student flats are not quiet either. "This is a problem because we have to concentrate and work very hard," she argues.

Other problems that came up during the discussion among some PhD students were that the university is closed during the summer and that many students found it hard to ride a bike. "But I learned to cycle in two days, even though there was snow," Pun says smilingly. Finally they stressed that contact with their supervisors is generally good and appreciated. Pun: "They make me find my own solutions." Nevertheless, these students would appreciate some more attention for 'the person behind the student' as one formulated it.

Yvonne de Hilster

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