stakeholders express optimism around growth in student numbers at Class of 2020 summit

The Class of 2020 webinar ‘Virtual Summit the Netherlands’ brought a panel of university and business leaders together to discuss how institutions and accommodation providers are responding to disruption caused by the virus.  

“Everybody thought that a lot of students would leave and nobody would come”

During the webinar, it was noted that the Netherlands was seen as a safe place to study during Covid-19, with as many as 80-90% of international students remaining at some universities. 

Panellists said that while the intake of international students for the coming semester is expected to drop, many institutions believe their programs will return to normal by January. 

“There is more optimism,” said Frans Snijders, director international office at VU University Amsterdam

“Everybody thought that a lot of students would leave and nobody would come.

“But at the moment I see more optimism in the question of ‘are students coming to the Netherlands?’ So I don’t think we expect a great problem after this summer,” he said. 

Djordy Seelmann, CEO of accommodation marketplace platform HousingAnywhere said that his company lost 90% of bookings as soon as the lockdowns were announced, but recovery is already happening in the country. 

“A lot of people cancelled plans… Early move-outs have been another big problem that we have been seeing,” said Seelmann. 

He explained that HousingAnywhere has put in a lot of time looking at the market in an effort to assess where and when it is likely to recover. 

“We operate in 17 different focus cities… and these are spread throughout Europe, covering from Iceland to the very south of Europe,” said Seelmann. 

“The biggest problems that we have seen have been in the south of Europe and they still are.

“But the north of Europe, especially the Netherlands have seen a strong recovery already,” he added.  

Housing everywhere has seen more bookings now in June than it saw in the previous year in the Netherlands. 

“ In that sense, I don’t think many people called off their plans… they have postponed them or postponed the decision. And we see a very similar pattern in Germany and in the Nordics,” continued Seelmann.

The perception of the Netherlands as being a safe study destination could be a key factor for the return of international students. 

Snijders said that housing providers played a large role in postively promoting the image of the Netherlands. 

“I think there was a lot of concern about [students’] wellbeing, so we very much appreciated that they took care of our students just as we did,” he said. 

“Altogether we could not prevent them from going home. At some times they were called home by their universities or their families.”

Snijders explained that the majority of students at his university felt safe enough to remain in the Netherlands and that and that this was in part “the result of housing agencies taking care of our students”.

Panellists explained that for the coming semester, HEIs are using a blended learning approach.

A likely trend for the region will be to offer virtual study abroad programs so that students can still receive the same or similar level of education without leaving their ‘home’ countries. 

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