THE NETHERLANDS. They benefit the local economy and also do volunteer work: students are a boon to the places where they live, according to two reports commissioned by Kences, the umbrella organisation for providers of student housing.
What added value do students actually bring to a city? They are loud, they drink heavily, they have no qualifications as yet and not much money to spend... The student housing providers wanted a well-founded basis for countering these objections. Now there are two concise reports to support their position: one on the economic value and one on the social value that students bring.
In the Netherlands’ thirteen university cities, higher education and research accounts on average for ten percent of employment and 7.1 percent of the urban economy. Higher education and research are therefore a major factor of economic importance, according to the report that research bureau NEO Observatory produced for Kences.
In cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam this contribution is more modest, but in the smaller city of Wageningen no less than 36.8 percent of the working population owe their jobs to what the report refers to as the ‘knowledge cluster’. In Leiden and Delft, the knowledge sector also accounts for a sizeable share of local employment.
The bureau’s study covers higher education and university hospitals in the thirteen cities, along with all independent research institutes and corporate R&D. It also examines a range of indirect economic effects: in Amsterdam, for example, 50,000 people work in research, while an additional 11,000 jobs are indirectly related to this sector.
The housing providers’ reasoning is that students are crucial to all this activity: without them there would be no higher education. If you add up the resulting revenue and divide the total by the number of students, the bottom line is €27,600 of added value per student per year.
In the neighbourhood
“This isn’t about a hundred euros here or there”, says director Paul Tholenaars of Kences. “The amount per student serves as a kind of lens for looking at the knowledge cluster in a city. After all, universities exist by the grace of students, and companies with a strong emphasis on R&D like to base themselves near universities.”
Of course money isn’t everything. What kind of neighbours do students make? Do they give something back to their neighbourhood and society as a whole, or are they just a nuisance? The Verwey-Jonker Institute has looked into this balance. The authors of its report looked at news stories in the media, conducted a survey among students and carried out local studies in eleven districts spread over ten cities.
Their conclusion: while it’s true that local residents and students tend not to mix, the locals appreciate the liveliness that students bring to the neighbourhood. Although liveliness “can sometimes tip over into rowdiness”, only a handful of local residents said they would be happy to see the back of their student neighbours.
Remarkably, over half of students are involved in voluntary work, although seldom in the places where they live. “A significant proportion of students expressed a desire to do more for their own neighbourhood”, the survey states, a finding that applies to one in five.
And that is music to the ears of housing providers, says Tholenaars. “As you might expect, we know the cities well and have plenty of contacts. This kind of interaction is something we can facilitate. At present, local residents are sometimes allowed to use the courtyard garden or communal area of a student complex, which is good for social cohesion, but I’m sure there are more gains to be achieved.”
On some points, there is a world of difference between the opinions of students and local residents. For instance, 79 percent of students believe they contribute to a clean neighbourhood, a view shared by only one percent of residents. The survey also reveals that local residents unfairly attribute some of the mess in their neighbourhood to students.
Willing to contribute
The researchers’ advice to student housing providers is this: encourage students to become more involved in the social life of their neighbourhood. Their study suggests that international students in particular are very willing to give something back to the local community.
Tholenaars himself lives opposite a student complex with rubbish containers outside the front door. “All kinds of junk is dumped there, but the students certainly aren’t the only ones to blame. And in old neighbourhoods you sometimes see students’ bikes cluttering up the street. Of course it makes the place look untidy, but they have to park them somewhere. There’s not much students themselves can do about that.”
HOP, Bas Belleman