Student housing in times of coronavirus: making a virtue out of necessity

Because of coronavirus, many international students returned home, even though they were still bound to a tenancy agreement. In Amsterdam, a city with almost 60,000 students living in different types of housing, educational institutions and accommodation providers joined forces to accommodate international exchange and other students. By adopting a flexible approach, Dutch students were able to take advantage of the vacated space.

Cancelling tenancy prematurely

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) welcomes almost 4,200 international students each year. For these students, finding housing is no easy task. They have no network in the Netherlands, no knowledge of the Amsterdam housing market and rooms are in short supply. UvA therefore assists these students by putting them in touch with accommodation providers, with whom agreements have been made to provide (mainly furnished) rooms for international students. Dennis Gronert, housing development programme manager at UvA, regards this supply as a kind of landing area: "It gives students time to build their own network or waiting time to move to another house in Amsterdam. Then we'll offer the next batch another landing area."

Many international students returned home earlier because of the coronavirus crisis. It was unclear when education would resume, so UvA helped the students by making it easier for them to cancel their tenancy prematurely. This was achieved by agreement with various housing associations, including Woonstichting De Key. They are responsible for housing more than 1,400 international UvA students. "Actually, we've had the same kind of agreement for this type of accommodation for 15 years," says account manager Juliette Geraedts-Gunning. "Usually, someone can't just cancel their agreement prematurely, but we put the welfare of the students first." Accommodation providers even take care of the storage of items left behind, which the students can collect or have returned to them at a later date.

Studentenhuisvesting UvA Diemen

New growth uncertain

UvA takes into account that not all rooms will be used by new international students in the next academic year. It is uncertain how many will come to Amsterdam in the new semester. "We anticipate a decrease due to travel restrictions, but also because students from abroad were unable to take English entrance examinations due to coronavirus. As a result, their enrolment forms are not complete and they cannot be admitted. Another reason for the decrease may be that students and their parents lack sufficient financial resources. In addition, we cancelled the exchange scheme in the first semester", Gronert explains.

UvA and the accommodation providers do not want to see vacant properties in a city struggling with a housing shortage. That is why they joined forces to seek a solution for the upcoming semester. It has been agreed that current international students will have the opportunity to continue renting for the next academic year. "Here, too, we adopt a flexible attitude, because an international student's agreement normally covers a maximum of one academic year", says Geraedts-Gunning. "We're always in close contact with UvA to discuss how we fill the rooms, so we were able to switch quickly. In the end, arranging all the new agreements was quite a job, because everything has to be legally correct." Furnished units that fell vacant due to the departure of international students were offered to Dutch students as temporary accommodation.

Studentenhuisvesting UvA Diemen

"Students also come for the experience"

According to Gronert, it is difficult to make a forecast for the academic year 2021/2022. He himself expects that international students will find their way back to Amsterdam by then. "You don't come just to study, but also for the experience of living in Amsterdam," he adds. "It's still anyone's guess, though." UvA and the accommodation providers involved do, however, indicate that they will use the flexibility of the past few months as a yardstick if the effects of coronavirus extend beyond academic year 2020/2021.