A room (or box) of one's own

Delta nr 15, May 2005

Duwo and TU Delft are currently deciding what type of accommodation to build for international students in the TU North area. But finding out what foreign students want isn't so simple.

VSSD, the Delft Student Union, recently held a meeting about student housing plans for the TU North area, including international student housing. Among those present were Duwo representative Hans Al, Marlies Poelmann, from the TU's International Office, and Delft City Council representatives. Unfortunately, only one international student attended the meeting. The discussion therefore was based on assumptions rather than the opinions of visiting students.

Currently, most international students live in housing exclusively for foreigners, and many aren't happy about it. Some even say their housing situation makes integration a lot harder. But Duwo's Al says: "The amount of social interaction foreigners have with locals isn't merely based on where they live. There are plenty of other places to socialize."

Duwo intends to mix international and Dutch student housing in the North area. But this doesn't mean that in future foreign students will share their kitchens with Dutch students. Most likely, Dutch and foreign students will be segregated within the buildings, the Dutch occupying one floor, foreigners another.

Al explained that there are several reasons for separating Dutch and foreign students: "Firstly, foreign students require a different monitor, someone who speaks various languages and has knowledge of different cultural backgrounds. Also, the tenancy period varies greatly among foreign students. Some stay here for just two weeks, others for three months, some for a year or longer, which complicates matters for us. We therefore prefer to group foreigners together."

Another reason is the Dutch tax system. "There's always a discussion with the Tax Office (Belastingdienst) about whether international student housing should be considered the same as regular student housing or more like hotel rooms," Al said. "Should they decide we offer hotel rooms, then we'd have to charge a 19 percent tax, which is something we don't want."

Fortunately, the tax authorities decided that Duwo is offering international students regular student housing. The tax department does however require a clear division between accommodation for local and international students.

Duwo plans to give the TU North area a proper 'campus feel', but it's uncertain what exactly the area will offer. One of the issues discussed by the various parties at the VSSD meeting was the fact that TU Delft doesn't really have a campus, or not a campus like those at most UK and US universities. The consensus seemed to be that a lively campus, with student housing, cafes, shops etc., would definitely improve integration.

The meeting also aimed, but failed, to determine the type of accommodation international students want. Poelmann said the huge variety in students' wishes makes catering for them rather complex. "Some choose to live with other foreigners, others prefer to live among Dutch and quite a few would rather have self-contained accommodation," Poelmann said.

Overall, the meeting wasn't very fruitful. This summer the TU will survey outgoing international students on their housing preferences, and Duwo says it will properly consult foreign students before they start building new accommodation.


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