Growing pains for UCF

Students of the Multilingualism master in Leeuwarden feel they are not given the same support and resources as students in Groningen.

Jason Olszewski, a 26-year-old American master’s student in Multilingualism, is one of the international students enrolled in the programme. His classes are given at the University Campus Fryslân in Leeuwarden, but few to none of his Dutch classmates live in the city – ‘the Dutch students know better than to live here’, he jokes. He and his fellow international classmates feel that they are out of sight, out of mind.

The students in the programme have no complaints about the content of the English-taught master itself, and the number of students enrolled has doubled from 12 to 24 in the past year. However, important details regarding their ability to live here and integrate seem to be underestimated.

Fewer Dutch classes

All international students doing a bachelor, master or PhD at the RUG are entitled to 50 hours of free Dutch classes. However, assistant professor Nanna Haug Hilton says that UCF offers twelve hours for all master’s students taking courses there.

When Jason and his classmates objected to being offered fewer hours than students in Groningen, they got an additional 20 hours. That meant 32 hours in total, which is still considerably less than what Groningen-based students get. ‘I am pretty sure they managed to get our students well past an A2 level, which is what the language course in Groningen also aims to do’, Hilton says.

Even though the masters is taught in English, the UCF used its own money to make sure that the students got the classes that they did, says programme director Goffe Jensma. Students were given a choice to either have travel expenses to Groningen compensated or to have additional classes in Leeuwarden.

No Frisian, either

For the students who live in Groningen, like 26-year-old Kayla Stevens, none of that was an issue. ‘I was able to enrol in a course offered by the university for 50 hours and I took the 6 classes offered by UCF. But if you live in Leeuwarden, that’s hard to do.’

Even though the master’s programme focuses in part on the case of Frisian as a minority language, the students can’t learn Frisian, either. Those classes are only offered in Dutch. Jensma says he has been in contact with the Language Centre of the RUG to offer English-taught Frisian classes as soon as possible, potentially as a MOOC.

Shut out of the library

Another issue is location. Although there are plans for UCF, which hosts several other academic programmes, to have a more permanent home eventually, courses are currently taught at Tresoar – a library in Leeuwarden. It closes at 6 pm.

That’s an improvement over last year when closing time was 5 o’clock, Kayla says. ‘Our professors were always concerned about getting out of our class on time.’ In addition the hours make it impossible for students to study there after class.

‘It’s really too bad, because it’s a nice library with plenty of space and sources. But since it’s never open after class, no one can really use it.’

But in order to remain open at night, Tresoar has to have at least two staff members present. Jan Michorius, an employee of the Leeuwarden city municipality, says the library will soon start a trial with new hours: on Monday through Thursday, the facility will remain open until 10 p.m.

Unaware of UCF’s existence

As for registering at the municipality, Jason says that was also frustrating. He and the other five other international master’s students had to go to the Leeuwarden office repeatedly to prove they were RUG students studying in Leeuwarden. The municipality seemed unaware of the UCF’s existence.

‘They kept asking me if I meant to say that I was studying at Stenden or NHL’ – two applied science colleges in the city – ‘and they didn’t believe me when I said I was studying at the University of Groningen in Leeuwarden, even though I showed them my university ID card.’

Although Jensma says there are resources within the faculty to help students get registered, he is surprised that the municipality seems so uninformed. ‘Leeuwarden wants to be a full-fledged student city and to become known as a city of education, but at the municipality, it’s a matter of ignorance.’

‘They’re not yet so familiar with having to register international students or ensuring that study spaces are available, and that can have consequences for those ambitions.’

Better informed

The municipality staff has to be better informed, Michorius agrees. ‘We’re going to try to make sure that as soon as a RUG student shows their ID card to an employee, they can register straight away’, he says. ‘I have notified the Client Contact Centre from the Leeuwarden municipality that in addition to the applied science schools, international students from University Campus Fryslân are also here.’

These are issues that any new academic programme is likely to encounter, Jensma says. ‘UCF is doing everything in their power to ensure that these problems will not be an issue for their students in the future.’