Why is information for internationals such a mess?

Hanze UAS does not sufficiently inform its international students and its website is cluttered. This is what Alba and Saskia think, and they are probably not the only ones.

‘Apparently I could have applied for a grant’, says music student Alba González Blanco (23), ‘but I couldn’t find information about it anywhere. So now I pay for everything myself.’ Alba thinks the information provided by Hanze University of Applied Sciences is poorly accessible, unclear and sometimes even impossible to find. It is a picture that many international students in the Netherlands will recognise.

Seventy per cent of foreign students are unaware of the right to a student loan

Two national student interest groups (Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg and Landelijke Studentenvakbond) and the Erasmus Student Network released the results of their Annual International Student Survey in August. Some outcomes: seventy per cent of foreign students are unaware of the right to a student loan and the Dutch student travel product. Internationals are better informed about insurances, nevertheless 37 out of 100 students do not know how to arrange these either.

Congratulations! You are now officially enrolled at Hanze University of Applied Sciences! With this enthusiastic first line in an email Hanze University welcomed Saskia Lehman (23) last summer. The message didn’t not contain further information about her move to Groningen. For questions the mail referred Saskia to www.hanzegroningen.nl, a link that didn’t not work. A mistake, the Hanze admits afterwards, about the error they had not noticed before. (The correct link is: www.hanzegroningen.eu)

This is not the only mistake foreign students encounter. The Hanze website linked Alba and Saskia several times to pages in Dutch. ‘Quite frustrating’, says Saskia, ‘because you get the feeling you are missing out on important information.’ A Hanze spokesperson acknowledges that it can indeed happen once that ‘a link leads to a Dutch webpage, but in principle this should not be the case.’

‘All those links’, Alba sighs, ‘it’s chaos’

A day after her admission, Saskia received an extensive email with good tips on accommodation. It took some time, effort and patience, but eventually she found a place to live in a nice house.

Another three weeks later, Saskia received an email from the School of Health Care Studies about the books she needed to buy and where to find her timetable. The bottom of that mail showed a reference to Information from the International Office. It contained a link to the page about insurance, a link to information about public transport, and a link about registering with the council.

‘All those links, it’s chaos’, Alba sighs. ‘When you visit a Hanze information page, you usually don’t find the information you are looking for. You have to click through a lot and open new pages and websites. To get a complete picture, you need many web pages. I got the feeling I had to figure everything out myself.’

This is exactly what Saskia did. She found a webinar, in which internationals already studying in Groningen tell newcomers what to expect and what to look out for. According to Hanze, there are several webinars a year and students receive an invitation to these. But Saskia is absolutely sure: she has never received such an invitation.

Saskia found a lot of useful information at Welcome Day

Another two weeks have passed when Saskia received another email. This time from the Hanze International Student Team inviting her to the Welcome Day that takes place on the Friday before the official start of the year. Saskia found a lot of information there, especially about insurances. ‘Too bad for the students who cannot come to the welcome day, though’, Saskia thinks. According to Saskia, these internationals therefore have to make do with the lack of information with which she herself could barely get by.

The worst informed foreign students feel about the financial aspects of studying in the Netherlands. According to the national survey, internationals are not well informed about their entitlement to study finance and transportation facilities for students.

The reasons for the lack of communication remain unclear

In Groningen, this does not seem any different. Indeed, under certain conditions, internationals can claim study finance and the student travel product. (One of the conditions is that you have a paid job for 56 hours a month.)
Alba and Saskia were not aware of this. They did not even know DUO, the Dutch study finance organisation, existed, let alone that they could claim study finance. Hanze did not inform them about this. Alba might have been able to get a conservatoire scholarship, but she was not told about this either. Now she pays for everything out of her own pocket. A big expense and extra stress.

What the exact reasons are for the lack of communication with international students remains unclear. However, the Hanze spokeswoman does say that the website is being thoroughly revamped. ‘Foreign students are helping to perfect the international pages and the English-language information.’