It is city council member Alexander Lurvink (one-man fraction Groep Lurvink) who took the initiative for the townhall meeting. A number of weeks ago, he appealed on Facebook for students to e-mail him with their experiences on the overstrained Maastricht rooms market. It is clear to him: something has to be done, the authorities must step up now.
“Sorry,” Eloïse Perche excuses. She is crying. “For the past two months, I have spent every day searching for a room. This is my first time abroad and I am feeling so stressed.” At the moment, she is staying in a hotel, but knows that in two weeks’ time she has to leave again. “Where can I go? I hope that you can do something for us.”
For many (especially) international students the concerns are stacking up: where will I sleep tomorrow, can I call on a friend, will I have to return to my parents, quit the study, shall I just accept that rent of a thousand euro, should I accept this letter’s strange illegal requirements? Marie Herrera from the US pays no less than two thousand euro for a two-bedroom apartment – “I have no idea how I will manage financially” – but her landlord forbids het to ‘sublet’ her second bedroom. “If I do so, I will have to pay a 10 thousand euro fine.”
Exploited and discriminated
Letting agents demand high registration costs. Students feel exploited. Some have already spent 500 euro at the various agencies, just to be able to have a shot at an opportunity, without them ever having seen a place on the inside. Then there are the many frauds on social media, scammers who pressurise foreign students and take their money for fake rooms. Because of the distance, it is impossible for this group to check whether the room actually exists or not. And last but not least: discrimination. According to student Mathis Cayuela, that is the greatest problem. It is even bigger than the rooms shortage. He now lives in Heerlen, “I could no longer pay for my hotel room in Maastricht”. He is very irritated by the ‘Dutch only’ advertisements on social media. “Are we less than Dutch students? The UM has the reputation of being international, doesn’t it? So why are we being treated like this? I don’t feel welcome here.” And, speaking of discrimination: he pays 170 euro per month on train tickets. “Why can’t we travel for free, just like Dutch students?”
Students who can’t find a room or who simply can’t afford the high rents, are forced to return home, for example, to their parents in Germany. Only to then travel back and forth by car. With compulsory tutorials and no online education, they sometimes spend four hours travelling a day.
“I have no time left for anything else,” says an emotional Alessandra Lobo, student at the School of Business and Economics: “I spend all my time searching, travelling, and studying. I am allowed to miss four tutorials and I have already missed three. I am so far behind.” Her request to the faculty to participate online, was denied. She could consider dropping the first block, the faculty suggested. “But I don’t want to suspend my studies.” And yes, there are certainly students who have given up. “They had no other option left.”
A quick solution? Allowing online education, many reckon. According to the student, the UM should be more concerned about the students’ miseries: “How is it possible that the university takes no responsibility?” “This problem was already visible in May, why did the UM continue to enrol students?” Also: “I am shocked by the lack of help. International students will suffer delays as a result.” The UM is also being blamed for the fact that they are looking to the city for solutions, which in turn looks to the university.
Vivianne Heijnen, responsible alderman: “The most important thing is that you are safe”, responding to extremes: students who sleep in their cars, the offers of sex in exchange for a room. “I am going to phone the university this evening.” She says this Wednesday evening. She refers to the example of professor Ramani, also present, associated with UNU-Merit and the initiator of Site4Society, who has taken students into her home. “Maybe we should pass that on to the rest of the city.”