Unprecedented growth at the RUG
The RUG announced the definitive number of students who were enrolled on 1 October 2018. The numbers confirm the June predictions of record growth. This year, 859 more first-years enrolled than in the 2017-2018 academic year. The total number of students this year is 31,115; that is 1,367 more than last year, or a 4.6 percent increase.
This pretty much matches the overall increase of students throughout the Netherlands. The student population has increased by approximately 5 percent over the last year, according to an announcement by the Association of Universities in October. ‘It’s possible that halving tuition fees for first-years this year has had a slightly positive effect on the national increase’, RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker said.
More international students
The number of international students has also increased. In 2017, 5,817 students with a nationality other than Dutch were studying at the RUG, making up 19.6 percent of the total number of students. Today, that number is 7,081, or 22.8 percent of the total student population.
The goal is for 30 percent of RUG students to hail from foreign countries. These international students are needed, the RUG says, to compensate for the ageing population in the Netherlands. But Bakker emphasises that the RUG doesn’t want the total number of students to keep growing. ‘The RUG has said before that it’s not our ambition to grow any bigger than we are now.’
Lecture halls too small
Some faculties have seen their student population grow beyond what they’re capable of sustaining. Lecture halls are too small for the larger class sizes and schedulers have resorted to scheduling exams during evenings and even on weekends.
Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS) in particular is having trouble with the influx of students. Because the bachelor programme for psychology didn’t have a numerus clausus this academic year, their enrolment number increased by 514 students over last year. The Faculties of Science and Engineering (FSE) and Economy and Business (FEB) have also been growing steadily.
Next year, some of the biggest growers will have a numerus clausus. Psychology will not admit more than 650 first-years; artificial intelligence (part of FSE) will cap off their number at 150; and international business (FEB) will allow a maximum of 450 first-year students through their doors next year.
Not at risk
‘A numerus clausus is a strict measure, not something we implement lightly’, Bakker explains. As long as the quality of education is not at risk, universities aren’t allowed to just limit the number of students in a programme. And universities have even fewer options for control when it comes to the influx of international students: ‘Students have the right to move freely within the EU’, says Bakker.
But student party DAG feels the university should try harder to stem the flow. One thing they could do is advertise less. ‘Growth is currently a priority at the expense of everything else’, says Koen Marée, who serves on the university council for DAG. ‘We’d prefer to see solutions for the lack of housing, lecture halls, and study rooms. International students are more than welcome, but they deserve proper housing and study facilities.’
Many international students had a really hard time finding a place to live in Groningen. The RUG, in collaboration with the city and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, arranged for emergency housing in tents and on a hotel boat. DAG launched a couch surfing initiative, putting homeless international students in contact with students or locals who had room for them.
Marée says there are still students staying with people because they haven’t found housing of their own. ‘We actually had some new requests come in over the past few days.’ DAG is ‘displeased’ that the RUG won’t announce how many students that enrolled at the university actually left again before 1 October. It’s entirely possible, Marée thinks, that this number is higher than normal because of the dire housing shortage.
‘That’s not the impression I get’, Bakker responds. She doesn’t know how many students decided to back out of studying at the RUG this year. ‘There’s always a few, and they all have their reasons. In Germany, the academic year doesn’t start until 1 October, so there’s always a few Germans who switch at the last minute.’