When high school students search for their future university options, they’ll most likely end up on a ‘top universities’ list to estimate how good their options will be compared to others. Especially since these undergraduates are usually out-of-country people who can’t really make a personal guess as to how a university will turn out for them.
As some of you may know, the UvA just got ranked as the 58th best university in the world for the second year in a row by the QS World University Rankings. This also places them as the best university in the Netherlands. These times, I ask myself how students feel about this great achievement. More specifically, I wonder how internationals think of this after hearing many of them protest about the UvA and how our university treats them. To get a better grasp, we asked YOUvA Today’s international audience in a survey what they think about their university’s top spot.
The survey asked international students to give their personal ranking of the UvA out of 10, while some leaned more toward 2-3, others gave it between 6-7. When asked why they gave that particular number, some students answered that the university has a great quality of education and many resources that have helped them get through their studies. One went on to say that in their experience, they felt that the knowledge gained throughout their studies was superior. However, not every response was a positive one. One student explained that the UvA has too many communication issues and that it doesn’t adjust to the increased number of students being accepted into their programmes which ultimately degrades the quality of education in many bachelor’s programmes. Other students said that ‘the university lacks some prestige’ and doesn’t take care of its students either. Another mentioned that international students are viewed as a ‘pest’ in the UvA’s university culture.
The truth is it’s more complicated than that. The UvA could easily take better care of its internationals if they managed their influx in a better way. The university has many strong suits but one it lacks is the ability to organise the life of international students after they’ve come to the Dutch capital. In 2021, 20,000 people came to Amsterdam to study and this number still grows with each year. According to Het Parool, about 15 years ago, many companies and the Dutch government urged universities to internationalise as they wanted more knowledge from abroad but also to prepare Dutch students for a more international labour market. Today, the number of international students has tripled over recent years while the number of Dutch students at the UvA has only increased by 6%. While this technically went according to plan, Amsterdam universities are becoming heavily concerned about these numbers. Both the UvA and VU are calling this situation a ‘cry for help’ and emphasise that they cannot handle the increase in international students. While the UvA is already taking action against the issue, last week the Minister of Education decided that there will be no laws to regulate the intake of internationals, which is precisely what Amsterdam universities desire. If the Senate passes the Language and Accessibility Act, it would guarantee the universities the control over the influx of international students. Now, they’ve started taking the situation into their own hands. They’re actively looking for alternative ways to reduce this number. For instance, political science is becoming numerus fixus, which means that there will be a cap on the number of students able to enter the popular programme. They have also created Dutch and English tracks to be able to filter these students separately.
The university’s 15-year-old priority to internationalise itself is limited by the fact that it isn’t able to currently provide its students with adequate housing or its professors with manageable working hours. The recent strike by a collective of university employees also highlights the struggle of professors to cope with systemic overwork and exploitation. So, as UvA floods the university gates wide open to the world, it actually forgets that it must also keep tending to all its students and the lecturers that teach them. While I don’t think that international students completely loathe the UvA, I believe that they have a general feeling of betrayal and frustration with the university’s management and rightly so. For instance, the Dutch housing market isn’t as open to internationals as it is to local students. Many accommodations tend to write ‘No internationals’ on their Facebook posts as well. More so, internationals are put at a general financial disadvantage since they pay a much higher tuition fee than those with an EU passport. Finally, internationals with a student visa in the Netherlands aren’t allowed to work a part-time job. I recall walking into a café and being told that I could’ve worked there if it weren’t for my nationality.
While being ranked #1 is great news, this will most probably attract more international students. And, given the fact that universities are already quite full and not allowed to put a cap on the number of students they accept, the university will not be able to support them if they keep going at this rate. While I believe that everyone from all over the world must have equal opportunities, are these opportunities worth it if what you get isn’t what you were promised?
Photo: Catherine Vu
Note: This article is in no way an insult to international students. As an international myself, I have experienced UvA’s disregard for its students and highlight why I believe this is happening.