Student housing in Wageningen: how WUR, Idealis and the municipal council are addressing the issue

The Netherlands has been facing an acute housing shortage for some time now. Many students also find it difficult to find a place to live in the city where they are studying. In Wageningen, WUR, housing association Idealis and the municipal council are working together to provide students with enough good, affordable accommodation.

In the summer of 2022, several Dutch universities issued a remarkable appeal to international students: stay at home if you have not yet found a room for the new academic year. As the number of Dutch and international students continues to rise, the supply of housing is stagnating. Student housing providers can no longer cope with the demand. Fortunately, WUR didn’t have to ask its students to stay at home – but Wageningen isn’t immune to the effects of the housing crisis.

Valuable cooperation

Let’s start with a few statistics. In the 2022/23 academic year, a total of 13,678 students were enrolled at Wageningen University & Research. Approximately 8,800 Dutch and international students live in the city of Wageningen, most of whom – more than 6,000 students – rent a room through the housing association Idealis. The remaining students rent their accommodation from other organisations or private landlords.

WUR, Idealis and the municipality of Wageningen are working together to ensure that as many students as possible have a chance of finding a suitable room. The partners have reached mutual agreements on the number of student residences, the quality of those residences and the living experience. For example, the municipal council has concluded performance agreements with Idealis on issues such as new construction plans, rental rates and sustainability. WUR has agreed with Idealis that they will set aside rooms for international students during the summer and winter periods, and help cover the cost of rooms that are vacant later in the year as a result. The housing association is committed to ensuring that all first-year students are able to find a place to live before 1 May.


The three partners, in conjunction with the municipality of Ede, also prepare an annual forecast of the number of students who will be looking for accommodation in a given period. This way, they try to strike a balance between supply and demand. However, that is easier said than done, says Ingrid Hijman, head of WUR’s Student Service Centre: “The world is changing rapidly. Student grants, Covid-19, the war... all kinds of factors are affecting student numbers.”


The three partners have been working intensively together on the issue of student housing for more than a decade. Each partner has its own role to play in this partnership:

Housing association Idealis owns and manages almost 6,000 rooms and apartments in Wageningen, most of which are occupied by students.

WUR shares forecasts of student numbers and liaises closely with Idealis about the number of enrolments, available rooms and the welfare of the students living there.

The municipality of Wageningen has concluded performance agreements with Idealis and provides planning support (including zoning plans).

The responsibility for providing sufficient student housing is largely in the hands of Idealis. The housing association is also responsible for the quality, liveability and affordability of the housing. “We ensure good rental rates, which makes the rest of the market behave better,” says Linda Cents, Housing and Real Estate manager at Idealis. “We have a lot of contact with WUR. For example, we liaise with the deans and student psychologists about students’ health if there is a medical emergency. Something happens every day, but together we’ve built a good safety net.”


“It’s a very valuable partnership,” agrees Cindy van Soest, Housing and Living policy officer at the municipality of Wageningen. “The municipal council has a responsibility towards all its residents, and there’s a severe shortage of housing. But we like to be involved in finding solutions.” Each of the partners has different levers they can pull, explains Van Soest: “With its range of degree programmes, WUR can partly influence the number of students coming here; Idealis owns the housing. And we can facilitate planning, for example through zoning plans.”

Although WUR isn’t responsible, it feels responsible
Ingrid Hijman, WUR

The Wageningen approach seems to be working; in 2022, the Dutch Student Union (LSVb) declared Wageningen to be the best city in the Netherlands for student housing. A survey by the Higher Education Press Office (HOP) revealed that in almost every city the waiting list for student housing is longer than in Wageningen.

Peaks and troughs

And yet there is plenty of room for improvement. In the summer of 2022, many students struggled to find a room. According to Ingrid Hijman, the housing shortage was the result of a ‘perfect storm’: “Students took longer to finish their studies due to the Covid-19 pandemic and stayed in their rooms longer due to the housing crisis. A higher than usual proportion of Bachelor’s students were looking to rent a room. And then there were the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine: many landlords took in Ukrainian refugees.”


Dissatisfaction with the housing shortage led to protests on campus in September, with around 70 Dutch and international students calling on WUR to do more. In the autumn, students occupied a building in the centre of Wageningen.

“I was an active member of the squatter scene myself in the 1990s, so I really do understand where they’re coming from,” says Hijman. “I spoke to the students during the protest. Some of them asked me why WUR doesn’t build housing itself. But as a university, we don’t want to get into student accommodation; we provide education, which is a completely different business. That being said, we do everything we can. We’re not responsible, but we feel responsible.”

Creative solutions were sought to overcome the acute shortage. Cents: “There are all sorts of things you can do. For example, as a temporary solution, we provided accommodation with space for two students per room. You see that quite often abroad. The students themselves were very positive about it, as the evaluation showed.” The municipality of Wageningen was also involved in the search for temporary housing.

There’s a huge number of people who are desperately looking for affordable housing. We need to get the balance right.
Cindy van Soest, municipality of Wageningen

The problems that surfaced in September 2022 underline the biggest challenge when it comes to student housing: providing accommodation for peaks in student numbers. Most students look for accommodation during the summer, as the new academic year begins. By November, there are usually more rooms available on the market again. Offering rooms to all students during the peak period, without rooms being left unoccupied at other times of the year, continues to be a challenge.


In the future, WUR, Idealis and the municipal council will have more frequent discussions about the expected summer peak. “For the long term, we need to look at the options we have at our disposal to alleviate the peaks and troughs,” says Cindy van Soest. “In January of this year, we met to discuss potential scenarios. It’s important that we communicate in good time, also to the outside world.”

The three partners are working to spot peaks as accurately as possible, and a plan should make it easier to find suitable temporary solutions. Van Soest: “There’s a huge number of people who are desperately looking for affordable housing. We need to get the balance right.”

International students

Another concern is housing for international students. Dutch students may find it unfair that Idealis reserves 850 rooms for international students during the summer. Hijman: “International students can’t travel back and forth, and they don’t have a network here. That’s why we give them priority. Dutch students can continue to live with their parents for a while.”

We don’t do it for our own financial benefit, we do it for the benefit of society.
Linda Cents, Idealis

It is a delicate balancing act, agrees Linda Cents: “We try to make it as fair as possible. We see that people who don’t have a network here find it hard to get a room. And because they live far away, they can’t just pop over to Wageningen to interview for a room in a student house. We’re a social housing provider: we don’t do it for our own financial benefit, we do it for the benefit of society.”


So, does that mean that WUR should consider attracting fewer international students? Hijman: “We’re an international university, with a focus on global issues such as climate change and food supply. And besides, we’re not allowed to turn anyone away, as long as they meet the admission requirements.” Hijman is also keen to stress that the number of international students has remained roughly the same for many years: between 1,000 and 1,200 (about 20 to 25 percent of the total student population).

Hijman understands the frustration of Dutch students who are unable to find a room straight away: “I can totally understand how disappointed they might be if they’re stuck on a crowded train, or can’t join a student association. But it always works out in the end; you eventually find a place of your own. By 1 May of the current academic year at the latest, but usually earlier.”

Construction in Wageningen

In the meantime, work is underway in Wageningen to increase the number of student residences. In March 2023, Idealis opened a brand-new housing complex on Costerweg, with accommodation for 264 students. And in October 2022, construction began on housing for 350 students on Marijkeweg. Other projects are in the pipeline for new buildings on Bornsesteeg and in Born-Oost. However, some temporary units will disappear in the coming years.


“I think the supply and demand for rooms is more or less in balance at the moment,” Van Soest concludes. Ingrid Hijman still foresees challenges in accommodating groups that sometimes fall by the wayside, such as Master’s students who have done their Bachelor’s degree elsewhere, international exchange students and PhD students with a scholarship from their home country and who have little money to spend. “But I think we’re doing a good job in Wageningen. Especially compared to other student cities.”