Text Coretta Jongeling in collaboration with Marloes Klaasse
How serious is the room shortage in Wageningen? It depends a lot on who you ask. Students say competition is fierce. The university and student housing provider Idealis think the situation is not too bad.
In the run-up to this academic year, more than 2800 prospective students and PhD researchers registered on ROOM.nl, looking for a room. ROOM.nl is a platform run by accommodation providers Idealis and DUWO, and 1598 students have found a place through it. The other students have either found somewhere by another route, are not actively looking, or are obliged to commute to the university every day.
Of all the rooms available on ROOM.nl, 875 are reserved every year for first-year students, both local and international, who are coming to Wageningen for a longer period and are given priority status. This does not include exchange students, although they are prioritized too, along with Dutch students living more than 130 kilometres away from Wageningen.
This year there were 1000 priority students registered on ROOM.nl. Of these, 863 have found a room via the website. It is not clear how the other 137 students have fared. They may not have come to Wageningen in the end, or they may have found a room by a different route or have taking lodgings. Or maybe they are still looking.
There is a shortfall of about 22,000 student rooms in the Netherlands, according to the Knowledge Centre on Student Housing. Students in Groningen occupied a university building in protest against the housing crisis, and Twente University emailed internationals without a room suggesting they reconsider their choice of university. It didn’t come to that in Wageningen. Quite how serious the shortage is here is hard to tell. And September is just one moment; later in the year, rooms will be vacated as students graduate. The situation here is relatively good, say both the university and Idealis. But what does that mean?
Idealis cannot provide any hard figures on the number of students actively looking for a room in Wageningen, says Louise Dijkmans, responsible for marketing & communication at Idealis. ‘We can see how many people are registered on ROOM.nl, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t found a room. Some students stay registered in case they want to move again later. Most of the phone calls we get are from people who haven’t found anything. But we have only had one student on the line who was in real difficulty.’ Can they give an estimate of how many students are still looking? ‘It is not a large number, a handful at the most.’
The university doesn’t see any major problems either. ‘There are no international students left on our list of people looking for rooms,’ says Ingrid Hijman, head of the Student Service Centre. ‘In fact, we always reserve a couple of extra rooms for latecomers, but we didn’t need those. It was a bit harder than usual for exchange students this year, though. A lot of students didn’t move into rooms last year because of the Covid crisis, when all the teaching was online.’
Students who stayed a year longer with Mum and Dad are very keen to move out nowIngrid Hijman, head of the Student Service Centre
‘Now you can see that they are catching up, and students who stayed a year longer with Mum and Dad are very keen to move out now. Normally many of the sublet rooms go to exchange students, but this year a lot of Dutch students are interested in them, so there is more competition than usual. But this does not affect the international students coming for a longer period. We reserve those 875 places for them.’
But we have spoken to internationals who were still looking for a room. Hijman: ‘That shouldn’t happen. If students have followed the registration instructions and paid in time, they should have a room. They do have to respond to rooms themselves, and to several rooms at once. It’s not like booking.com, where you are guaranteed the room you want.’ In other words: some students are too picky. Both Idealis and the university have noticed an increasing preference for self-contained studios.
Hijman: ‘Many students start out thinking: I want my own room, with my own kitchen and toilet. That might be partly because of Covid. But there just aren’t enough self-contained studios for everyone so they often end up on a corridor and in the end they find they actually like that. Dijkmans, from Idealis, says: ‘We advise students not to be too fussy in the summer period. You can always look out for a nicer room later. And when you are looking, it’s important to respond regularly and quickly to rooms on offer.’
Like many fellow students, Christiaan van Vliet, a first-year student of Biotechnology, still hasn’t found a room in Wageningen. He comes from Zwolle and would have to spend three hours a day in trains. Instead, he opts to stay on a campsite. ‘I enjoy camping, I’ve been doing it all my life and I know what I’m doing, but it’s not as nice when you have to do it to be at university.’ The camping affects his student life. He has adjusted his daily routine to natural light, he has no Wi-Fi or direct electricity supply in the tent, and he can’t leave his tent unattended at night. And sadly, the campsite will be closing soon. ‘I’m asking around as much as I can and telling people I’m still in a tent.’ He is registered on ROOM.nl as well, but the waiting list is long there too.
Ko May Wang came to Wageningen from the US at the end of August to do his Master’s in Organic Agriculture. He started off as a guest in someone’s attic and has now found a sublet for two weeks at the Bornsesteeg. ‘The annoying thing about not having a permanent address is that I can’t register with the municipality. And without an address, I can’t apply for a social security number, so I can’t open a bank account. That means I can’t receive my grant as that can only be transferred into a European bank account. The search for a room is time-consuming and stressful. I would prefer to invest that time in my studies. I respond to every offer I find on various websites and social media. I don’t need luxury; just somewhere I can put a bed is fine. Room.nl did grant me priority status, but I have never made it past fourth in line. The priority status was removed on 15 September, so I have now fallen back to place 60-70 in line for a room. I emailed Idealis about it but didn’t get an answer.’
Richard Castelete is a Russian first-year student of Environmental Sciences. He is currently staying at a hotel, as he has failed to find housing. What he is looking for is hard to find: an apartment with more than one room. ‘I want to live alone and have an extra room. I have many family members in Europe who I expect will be visiting frequently. I will probably have guests staying over nearly every week. This is impossible if you live in a small room with shared facilities. Moreover, I really want to live in Wageningen, not in Ede or in Renkum. Picky? Yes, I am. But I just want to feel at home.’ Castelete’s search has been unsuccessful so far. ‘Many landlords don’t want students in their apartment. They probably think we create a mess or throw parties every week. Convincing them that’s not how I am is difficult. If I haven’t found anything by October, I will have to find a room to sub-rent, as I can’t afford this hotel for much longer.’