Effects of COVID-19

Travel restrictions are not affecting international student enrolment in the long term.

Travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic have negatively impacted the mobility of international students, however it is striking that by no means all internationals have left the country. According to research conducted by Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education, the number of student visa applications for the 2020-2021 academic year had ‘only’ dropped by approximately 30% compared to the number of applications in the previous academic year. Visa applications are only submitted by international students from outside the European Union. On the other hand, an increase can be observed in the number of international students from EU Member States. According to Nuffic, it is striking to see that this share has even gone up by 10% to 12%. As a result, the decline in the inflow of international students from outside the EU has largely been mitigated. Because the Netherlands has considerably more students from within the EU than from outside the EU, a slight increase of 1% in the total number of foreign students is even expected this academic year.

Map of the Netherlands

The impact of the pandemic on student numbers in Dutch research university cities.

Changes of numbers of international students

Source Nuffic

Despite a slight increase, clear differences can be observed between the Dutch research university cities. In cities with a relatively large share of international students from outside the EU – such as Delft and Wageningen – the total share is expected to decline. In comparison, cities with more European students such as Groningen, Leiden and Maastricht, are expecting an increase in the total number of students. In the short term, in most student cities the number of foreign enrolments in higher education has not declined or only slightly. However, the number of enrolments is not necessarily reflected in the demand for student housing: after all, almost all educational activities are currently taking place online. This means that some international students who are enrolled at Dutch universities plan to stay in their own home countries, which will result in a decline in the demand for student housing. Is this a trend that will continue in the coming years?

Risks of online education

In the long term, online education cannot be considered an equal alternative for face-to-face education.

Foreign students are expected to return to the Netherlands for their foreign exchange experience once the pandemic is under control. The ING Economic Research Bureau has published research demonstrating that online education is far from ideal. Online education offers a variety of advantages but these are outweighed by the risks involved. Examples include sky-high IT costs, privacy risks and cyber security risks, raising the question of whether institutes of higher education will continue to provide online-only education in the future. Another factor to consider is that students have indicated a preference for face-to-face education. In the study mentioned above, no less than 75% of the 8,500 respondents clearly favoured face-to-face education over online education. For these reasons, online education cannot be considered an equal alternative for face-to-face education. The researchers are therefore not advocating for a complete digitisation of education, but have suggested a ‘hybrid form’ instead, in which face-to-face and online education complement each other. Based on this information it is expected that the majority of international and Dutch students will continue to opt for mostly face-to-face education, meaning that international students will return to the Netherlands when possible. As a result, the demand for student housing will continue to grow as expected in accordance with the pre-coronavirus forecasts once travel restrictions have been lifted. This means that the drop in demand as a result of the pandemic and online education is expected to be limited in the long term.

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The consequences for the demand for student housing in the short and the long term