Student protestors refuse to leave Groningen university building due to housing crisis
A group of students occupied the Academy Building of the University of Groningen (RUG) on Thursday, following a demonstration on city streets about the lack of available student housing. The students have announced that they will only leave the university building if, among other things, their demands for more housing are met.
A spokesperson for the Groningen action group Shelter Our Students (SOS) says that there are about 75 to 100 students in the building. They want to "keep the occupation as safe as possible", including by complying with the coronavirus rules. "But we'll stay put for now." SOS organized a program with speakers and workshops in the building.
According to a spokesperson for the Shelter Our Students (SOS) campaign group, the university has closed all doors to the building. People who were in the building are allowed to go out, but no one is allowed in. The students are also not allowed to have food delivered, the spokesperson said. All lectures, doctorate promotions and graduation ceremonies in the building have been cancelled. "Completely ridiculous. You should just be able to let food in. All the large lecture halls can be used and we make room for exams. We are not in the way of those people. We are against the RUG, not against them."
Some students who share the protestors’ concerns were not pleased with the situation. “For the first time in a year and a half we finally had physical lessons again. At one point, the activists apparently managed to shout through the speakers throughout the building. Then we couldn't hear the teacher anymore, so we went outside,” one student complained to RTV Noord.
Due to coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands, it is effectively the first time in 18 months that higher education students can regularly attend classes in person and do not have to join lectures streamed online. “I have a statistics class, but I can’t get in,” one student from the far south of the country told RTV Noord. “I have never experienced this before. It's good that people stand up for this sort of thing, but the method? Well. I don't like it.”
The municipality of Groningen and the University of Groningen (RUG) say they share the concerns of the protestors. Groningen alderman Roeland van der Schaaf (PvdA, housing) and Hans Biemans from the Executive Board of the university are in the Academy Building to talk to the students.
Before the occupation, about 150 people took to the streets in Groningen in the “march of the homeless” to draw attention to the housing crisis, especially among international students. Hundreds of students have not yet been able to find accommodation this year, though the academic year has already started.
The demonstrators marched while holding signs with slogans, such as, “housing is a human right” and “winter is coming”. They also shouted slogans that made it clear that they quickly want appropriate housing.
The activists gathered at about noon on the Grote Markt in Groningen and then walked to the Academy Building. The university itself was not immediately available when contacted on Thursday for a response.
A number of students are currently sleeping in the emergency shelter of the municipality and through temporary shelter that SOS has arranged for them. The action group also states that some are staying with friends or at campsites.
Other cities are also struggling with a housing shortage for students. In Enschede, for example, about 400 to 500 international students have not found a room.
Reporting by ANP