Foreign students coming back to the Netherlands

Busy hallways, full libraries, lively discussions about group assignments and what to do next weekend – student life is flourishing again in the Netherlands. After 1,5 years of online classes and restrictions, students are allowed back on campus again. This also means an influx of new and current international students to the Netherlands. Exciting news for those who struggled with social isolation and an excessive amount of screen time every day.

Students from outside of the EU must apply for a visa to come to the Netherlands. This year, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) reports a surge in student visa applications. Up until July, it received 15.110 applications, the highest number in the last five years, and up from 12.300 applications in 2020. The largest number of students applied from China, India, the USA, Turkey and Indonesia. Additionally, after Brexit, the IND now has to process applications from the United Kingdom. The most popular universities in 2021 are the University of Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology, and the most frequently chosen study programs are Economy and Business Management. Other studies, such as Engineering, Arts & Culture and Social and Applied Sciences, are also in demand.

From the beginning of this academic year, there are almost no Covid-related restrictions in higher education. Universities do not have to follow the 1,5-meter distance rule anymore; in principle all classes are expected to be face-to-face, and most university buildings are fully accessible again. Face masks are required only while walking around, and most services, such as university restaurants, are fully available. Still, a maximum of 75 students per room should be respected, and students and staff are asked to self-test for Covid-19 twice a week. So far, the educational process is going rather smoothly, with a flexible option to switch to hybrid or online classes in case someone is tested positive for Covid.

With so many new students, the problem of student housing becomes even more prominent. During the pandemic, many students moved out of their apartments or rooms, since it was not necessary to be on campus. Many saw it as an opportunity to save some money and spend more time with their family. Now, however, that on-campus education is the standard, many students face the burning question of where to live. In spring 2021, there was already a shortage of 22,000 student rooms.

Some students currently have to commute for hours to get to class. For instance, Jan-David, a third-year bachelor student, has to drive from Cologne to Leiden twice a week to attend his classes. “This whole situation is more than stressful for me. I must drive most of the time all by myself, it’s really tiring and boring. It’s bad for the environment and I am always stressed about possible traffic jams. Being late or missing my whole class would mean that the trip has been for nothing, or, even worse than that, it could make me fail the course. I’m not sure if I will find a room, and the constant stress about looking for new rental offers and writing e-mails to request viewings really stresses me out. It drains a lot of time and energy that I really need for other things like studying. It would be nice to have a place in Leiden or its surroundings again, so that I can finally enjoy the possibility to be back on campus, to finally meet my friends”. Jan-David’s fellow student Petri from Finland is one of the students for whom online education actually worked out well enough: “Returning to campus is indeed refreshing, but also frustrating. Back home, I was able to successfully work, study and reserve time for family and friends. I think all this would have exhausted me mentally, if I had to be constantly traveling from place to place. However, I now want to enjoy this special time here until I graduate.”

To a bigger or lesser extent, most students are glad that remote education is in the past for now. Louisa from Germany says that she was really looking forward to going back to the Netherlands for the last year of her bachelor’s study in Psychology. Studying in person again after spending quite some time with her family felt great. However, she mentions that she also had some concerns about the Dutch regulations with Covid, as they were much stricter in Germany. “I found it a little weird being back at the university, but also great to talk to people in person and experience student life a little more normally. Overall, I think I got used to being back on my own and studying in person pretty quickly. And I hope that it stays that way, so that I can enjoy the last year of studying”, says Louisa. Alysa from Indonesia had to go through some trouble before she could actually be back on campus. “My arrival to the Netherlands from a ‘very high risk’ country meant I had to do a mandatory quarantine, which forced me to miss the first week of in-person classes. Despite not being able to physically attend my classes, the course program I enrolled in offers online options for those who must be quarantined for a variety of different reasons, including those who tested positive for Covid-19. Attending in-person classes after 1,5 years of remote learning felt nerve-wracking – it was as if I was starting my first year of university and it was my first day on campus. Though I still might need some time to adjust, I am excited to be back learning on campus, sitting in classes, and meeting fellow students!”

This is going to be an exciting and intriguing year for everyone involved in higher education. With the experiences and knowledge learned throughout 1,5 years of remote studying, flexibility has significantly increased. Despite the drawbacks and problems that arose during the Covid crisis, students are overall happy and hopeful for the future.

Written by Anastasiia Myronenko