Should I stay or should I go?
By Ahmed Farah
Pamela Bediako, a 24-year-old student of International Business and Management, wants to return to Ghana. She feels she may not be wanted here. Having witnessed friends suffer, she’s confident when she says: ‘The job market does not welcome foreigners. You may have the qualifications, but you’ll rarely get the chance you deserve.’
Jeremy Dillmann, a 21-year-old German Psychology student, analyzes the pros and cons. He admires the PhD opportunities at the University, but finds Groningen too small. Moreover, he realizes that many of Groningen’s attractions, such as its nightlife and vibrant cultural scene, mainly attract students, which might leave him feeling out of place once he’s left the University and has a job. Finally, he has a warning about the weather: ‘Did you know that it can be a health hazard to be constantly exposed to weather that affects you negatively?’
But there are those who stay even after they’ve graduated, like Ghanaian-Canadian Prince Ralph Osei. He started working at the University as an international alumni officer. ‘I got the job by accident!’ he laughs. ‘A call went out for ambassadors and I thought, why not? I like talking to people about my experiences here.’
His job involves fundraising and establishing alumni chapters around the world. ‘I get to travel all over the world. It’s a great opportunity to network. Even when I talk to CEOs, we all have one thing in common: we studied in Groningen.’
However, there aren’t many employment opportunities after graduation. ‘The University has to create more opportunities for people to stay on and work here. If they’ve invested so much in teaching people skills, why not make it possible for them to stay?’
No one really knows how many international students stay in Groningen after graduation. The Municipality registers how many foreigners live in the city, how old they are and where they’re from, but those figures don’t reveal whether they’re working or have studied here. Still, age groups can be revealing, explains Age Stinissen, of the Research and Statistics Department of the Municipality.
The largest increase in foreigners is among 20 and 21-year-olds, with the numbers from China, the rest of Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia having more than doubled. However, there are also significant increases in the numbers of Chinese and Eastern Europeans in their early to mid-30s. ‘Groups of people approaching 30 start leaving, but some stay on, since the numbers in the older bracket range are still more than in the range from 15 to 19 years old. The older groups are also increasing because the number of foreign students is growing fast.’
For PhD students, the possibilities are expanding. ‘Ten years ago 10% of our PhD students were international. Now it’s 50% and half of them did their Master’s here!’ says Joop Houtman, Administrative Director of the Graduate School of Law.
The Faculty of Arts has 55 international PhD students out of a total of 190. Marijke Wubbolts, coordinator of the Graduate School of Humanities, describes the increase as ‘gradual, but not drastic’. Fitsum Tiche, a 28-year-old Ethiopian PhD student, describes his position here as ‘the perfect opportunity’.
But will this last?
‘It’s more difficult now to work here than it was two or three years ago,’ states Fernando Luna, a 35-year-old Spanish PhD student, who also teaches History to Bachelor’s students. It is a consequence of the University’s increasingly difficult financial situation, especially for the Faculty of Arts. Having studied Dutch Culture for his Master’s, he stayed on and is now writing a book on the interconnected history of Spain and Holland during the 16th century. He hopes to have it published in about a year.
What does he appreciate most about working in Groningen? ‘Your opinion is important even if you’re just a PhD student,’ he says.