Maastricht & Students: a discussion evening at the Muziekgieterij
MAASTRICHT. Keeping the discussion about Maastricht as a student city going: okay. As a political party, being interested in the ideas in society: understandable. As far as that was concerned, the Labour Party (PvdA) meeting and the Student & Society Initiative, on Monday evening in the Muziekgieterij, can only be applauded. But are we hearing new or exciting plans? No, not really.
In the Franquinetstraat, near the Emmaplein, a student party got out of hand. The police escorted no fewer than one hundred attending students from the house because of the inconvenience they caused. Even the military police and dogs were called in. A student from Hogeschool Zuyd refers to this as an example in the discussion on the gap between students and citizens of Maastricht. “In some areas, there are quite a lot of students. They are not always aware of their behaviour and how much of a nuisance this can be for residents who have to be up at seven o’clock the next morning.” “But this is an old story, isn’t it?” says a former lecturer from Health Sciences, present on behalf of the Boschstraatkwartier-Oost neighbourhood platform. He is right. That was back in the summer of 2013. Six months later, the Maastricht city council announced that they would tackle the disturbances caused by students by curbing the splitting up of houses into student accommodation. In December 2013, the city council embraced the Student & City action programme (a collaboration between the university, Hogeschool Zuyd and various student organisations). The most important result was recently publicised: there will be an International Students Club in the Timmerfabriek.
Monday evening 19:00hrs, the Muziekgieterij. At the entrance, each visitor is given a table number. Divided into three rounds of half an hour, groups of five or six discuss career opportunities in Maastricht, the gap between the citizens of Maastricht and students, the housing situation, and the international atmosphere in the city – if there is such a thing?
At some tables, each person is allotted speaking time and the language used is English, as was requested. Elsewhere, as time passes, there is a divide: Dutch (“because it is easier and we are all Dutch anyway”) versus English.
The choice of English – “an attempt to reach international students and expats,” says Executive President Martin Paul in a short speech, has had a downside, referring to the poor turnout. There are about thirty participants, most of them students. “Maybe it dissuaded many people from Maastricht from coming, they may not feel at ease.” Later: “Do you know what the most common language in the world is? Bad English.” At the same time, Paul – a German who has good command of Dutch – is a supporter of learning the language of the country where you study. Maastricht University has offered foreign students basic Dutch training for some years now.
Paul to his audience: “I propose that each of you brings along three people next time. This group needs to grow. We must continue to talk about integration and Maastricht as an international student city. Students and neighbours must get to know each other, learn to respect each other.”
Shortly before, a critical question had been posed: “Do we have to mix?” A student from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences nods. “I am very interested in the locals, but I think it is stupid to just address someone on the street or in a shop.” Someone else: “But you just said that you don’t meet many people from Maastricht because you do everything within your small university group; you have lunch with them, study with them, and you all go to the same pub.” “That is correct, but I would really like to get outside that bubble.”
Frans Bastiaens, chairman of the local Labour Party, has an idea that might change that: “Why don’t we organise a Student Day each year.” “Like Mother’s Day?” someone wants to know. “It is a day when neighbourhoods organise events together with students. Bottom-up. Effort on the part of the neighbourhood platforms would be greatly needed.” In Groningen, says Maurice Evers, managing director of Student & Staff Housing, they have a ‘battle of the neighbourhoods’. “Fun,” reckon the people at his table. “I can just see it: which neighbourhood has the best students?”