Highs And Lows In International Student Barometer

The latest International Student Barometer (ISB) showed that while the RUG’s international students are generally satisfied, housing, employability and catering still have room for improvement.

The University of Groningen performed quite well in all five themes of the survey: decision making, arrival and orientation, living satisfaction, learning satisfaction and support satisfaction, all of which received a score above 3 in a scale from 1 to 5 (low to high).

Improved scores

The University of Groningen has worked on improving in several categories since 2010, but in general, students feel that Groningen is a good place to be and they appreciate its multicultural environment.

New students were particularly positive about how the university welcomes them: the score has not only improved since 2010, but this year was very close to the global average of 3.03, with a score of 2.97 for the RUG. Scores for the international classroom, class size, technology, the university’s academic staff and the level of English spoken have also improved.

Scores for satisfaction with the university’s laboratories and expert lecturers remained steady this year, with both categories receiving a score of 3.38.

Room for improvement

Despite students’ general satisfaction, there is still room for improvement. In the categories assessing the housing office (although the Housing Office is no longer responsible for international student housing) – with a score of 2.45 – accommodation conditions – 2.88 – and employability – 2.80 – all scored below the global average. Careers advice (2.62) and work experience (2.52) were also found lacking.

Although changes to catering from the university’s canteens and café are reflected in somewhat improved scores in the past five years, it remains a low point with a score of 2.83, which is still below the global average.

Progress report

Jonah Thompson, an international member SOG’s faction in the University Council, sees the latest barometer as a progress report. ‘The university board is aware of the problems and took action this year in order to solve them. But it takes time for such things to improve. We hope that we will see some positive results in the next couple of years,’ he says.

As the survey indicates, international students’ biggest challenge remains lack of job opportunities. Although the category ‘earning money’ improved with a score of 1.98 this year – last year it was 1.93 – it is still low in comparison to the global average score of 2.51. A related issue – financial support – also scored lower than the global average.

Job opportunities

When it comes to the reasons why students choose the university where they eventually study, Groningen was largely on par with other Dutch institutions. However, students gave potential work opportunities in Groningen a lower score (2.61) than the Dutch average (2.83).

‘It is true that students can’t get a job easily’, Thompson says. ‘But this is a complicated issue that involves a lot of different factors that need to be improved.’ Aside from offering Dutch courses to students, Thompson says he does not see much else the university can do toward fixing this particular issue.

In total, 2,245 international students and PhD candidates shared their opinions about the University of Groningen, which was a higher turn out than the 2014 edition: last year, 1,213 students responded to the survey. The global average scores were based on results from 172 other higher education institutions.


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Student Organises Refugee Conference

German RUG students Katharina Hilger wanted to help the people who came to the Netherlands as refugees, but she wasn’t sure how. She decided to organise a conference to make it easier to see things from the perspective of the refugees themselves.

Student Organises Refugee Conference

The Netherlands received thousands of asylum applications in 2015, and thousands of people across the country have extended a helping hand to those who are granted refugee status to smoothly integrate into Dutch society.

That includes Katharina Hilger, a 24-year-old master’s student in Psychology from Germany who is organising a conference this Thursday to raise awareness and inform students about ways they could actually help.


Sharing stories

‘I am really interested in the situation and I want to help, but I can’t visit a refugee camp as a volunteer due to my academic responsibilities’, she says. ‘I decided to organise something on my own to inform students about what the situation really is and how they could assist by inviting refugees to share their stories and reply to their questions’, Katharina explains.

She has also observed how, despite the large number of refugees coming to the Netherlands, not all Dutch people are always very open or nice towards them.

‘I want to help, but I don’t know how’ ‘They tolerate it, but I don’t know if they are happy about it. The problem is that they don’t know what to expect next and nobody is giving them any directions about how they could actually aid. I am also one of those people: I want to help, but I don’t know how.’

The speakers

Two Syrian refugees who are currently staying in Groningen will speak at the event and tell the stories of how they managed to come to the Netherlands. ‘Only by giving refugees the chance to talk about what they have gone through will people be able to understand their perspective’, Katharina says.

Student Organises Refugee Conference

During the conference, attendants will have the chance to ask the two refugees anything they would like to know. ‘What I would like to understand is how refugees perceive the locals and whether they feel welcome in the Netherlands or not’, she says.

Katja Kiepe, a representative of Humanitas, a Dutch non-profit social service in Groningen, will also be speaking. Members of the group Groningen Welcomes Refugees and Max Power, a bachelor’s student in International Relations and founder of the Refugees Voice project, will be there to talk about their initiatives and goals for the future as well.

‘By combining representatives of volunteer organisations and refugees as speakers, we can inform people effectively about ways to contribute to the situation’, Katharina hopes.

No academics

The German student extended invitations to RUG researchers to join the conference as well, but disappointingly, they refused. Initially, they declined because there wasn’t an exact date for the event, but even once a place and time had been sorted, none of the academics she approached could make it.

‘When I offered them the opportunity to choose the date, they said no, and when I chose the date, I got the same response from them’, she says. The volunteer organisations, on the other hand, had a completely different attitude. ‘They asked me to finalise a date and told me that they would make sure to be there. It was so nice to see such a reaction.’

A different perspective

Katharina hopes the conference will encourage people to refrain from judging refugees without knowing their background. She feels that the media’s framing of the refugee crisis doesn’t always depict reality.

‘We can’t judge them the same way’ Sometimes, the problem lies in the fact that the media tends to lump together those who come to Europe fleeing war in their country, and those who are coming for economic reasons. ‘This makes it difficult for people to understand the situation, but they have to realise that those two groups are dissimilar and we can’t judge them the same way’, Katharina says.

Major obstacle

Many of the refugees from Syria are highly educated and, as such, are prepared to work and pay taxes, but are typically not allowed to do so here. Being able to work in the Netherlands is a major obstacle to them finding stability in the Netherlands, she believes. ‘Employers shouldn’t deny hiring those people. I think everyone has to contribute to this so that we can help them’, she adds.

Now that all the details have been sorted, all Katharina can do is hope that the conference will have a strong impact on people. ‘I arranged this event for the refugees. It would be really disappointing for them if few people join. They have a really interesting story, so I think people should grab the chance and get to know them better.’

‘Refugees: A Different Perspective’ will take place at 18:30 on Thursday, 14 January in the Heymanszaal at the Academy building.


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Stopping Isis

Over the last few years, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caused irreversible damage in the cradle of civilisation, destroying 2,000-year-old Syrian artefacts and temples. Is there anything we can do to save these symbols of our cultural heritage?

ISIS and the Threat to Our Cultural Heritage: What Can the World Do?

The eighteenth Horst Gerson lecture will be given in the Aula of the Academy Building at 4 p.m. on Thursday, 8 October. Dr. James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, will be the featured speaker, following a preliminary programme with two lectures by Taco Dibbits and Lynn Rother at 13:30 in the auditorium of the Groninger Museum.

The lecture series is named for a German-Dutch art historian whose specialisation was 17th century Dutch and Flemish art. In 1965, Gerson was appointed as chair of art history at the RUG, a position which he held for ten years.

American art historian James Cuno’s lecture, part of the Horst Gerson series, will examine the current situation in the Middle East which has been precipitated by ISIS, focusing on the destruction of cultural heritage by the group. His goal is to propose five ways in which the international community ‘must respond to the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS’. ‘But, in the end, it will require the full restoration of social, political and economic stability in the region’, Cuno says. ‘That is the greatest challenge.’

While that daunting task looms, in the meantime, it is vital to stop ISIS from causing further damage. ‘We have so much to learn from the world’s cultural heritage about the genius of our ancestors and the interrelatedness of their many, different cultures.’

‘We should feel a great sense of responsibility for the preservation of the world’s artistic legacy. Unfortunately, now, all of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, much of it is purposely being damaged and destroyed. We should feel collective guilt about our not being more active in trying to prevent this. ’


Also known as the Venice of the Sands, Palmyra is an ancient Syrian city that was once the crossroads between the Roman and the Persian Empire. The historically rich ruins were among ISIS’ victims over the last few months. Palmyra has a prominent place in Middle Eastern history, and many of its artefacts and temples were destroyed.

‘The importance of Palmyra is its setting and its historical narrative. It is a very well preserved city of the early first millennium AD, located by an oasis in the Syrian Desert’, according to Lidewijde de Jong, a lecturer at the RUG in the archaeology department and chairperson of the Centre for the study of Culture, Religion and Society in Greco-Roman Antiquity.

Today, objects from Palmyra can be found in museums across the world, serving as characteristic examples of the unique cultural mixture of Palmyra, according to De Jong. But the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq is in extreme risk at this moment, and ISIS is not the only threat. ‘It is also due to widespread looting, stimulated by trade in illicit antiquities in the western world and Asia.’

There has been at least one unforeseen positive that has emerged from the ISIS menace, according to De Jong. ‘It has already lead to several initiatives for the safeguarding of cultural heritage and more general awareness about current threats to cultural heritage spreading.’

These initiatives may not prevent future attacks, but they might lead to measures and better legislation to prevent the sale of illicit antiquities. As an archaeologist who has worked in Syria for 15 years, De Jong’s main hope is a peaceful solution for the people of Syria and the chance to rebuild their country.

Destruction of everything

Yet Cuno sees ISIS as a very real threat beyond the Middle East as well. The group has been very successful and is likely to only continue growing, he explains.

‘Anything that seems to show evidence of difference will be destroyed’

‘ISIS’ members manifest themselves to the destruction of everything that ISIS sees to be different from its worldview’, Cuno says. ‘Anything that seems to shows evidence of difference, whether it is an individual, a religion, or a work of art, will be destroyed. That’s people, landscapes and cultural property. There isn’t one particular aspect that threatens humanity, but rather all of it.’

Among ISIS’ main activities, three are considered to form the most serious threat, according to Cuno. ISIS challenges the nation-state system, promotes ‘a caliphate world that doesn’t recognise national borders but rather recognises adherence to a particular theological ideology’. Moreover, ISIS brings the representation of different cultures in the world in peril.

‘ISIS wants to destroy manifestations of world views that are different than its own, whether those views are millennia old or much more recent. The existence of different points-of-view in the world is seen by ISIS as a threat to its hegemonic view of its particular interpretation of Islam.’

‘For those of us who believe in a cosmopolitan view of the world, one that promotes tolerance of difference and respects the interrelatedness of the world’s many cultures, ISIS must be defeated’, Cuno says.

Economic and political stability

He believes that ISIS can ultimately only be defeated when economic and political stability returns to the impacted nations. ‘The destruction of cultural property has a negative effect in the region. It contributes to its ongoing and deepening dysfunction, and it is this dysfunction that is causing the humanitarian migrant crisis the world is seeing right now.’

With regard to the destruction of cultural heritage sites, Cuno thinks that unless we stop this threat to human life, historians of the future can only hold people of our times responsible.

‘What is happening with ISIS at the moment has happened many times in the past and in many parts of the world. However, we haven’t prepared ourselves to prevent that from happening again in the future, and that is also because we can’t agree to work together out of self-interest’.

Heritage and history themselves could hold the key to their own salvation, Cuno believes. He wishes that we would ‘learn from the past and avoid repeating the same mistakes time and time again’.


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Norman Atlantic’s recent tragedy

A few days ago firefighters managed to extinguish all fires in Norman Atlantic, which was towed to Brindisi’s port. Italian authorities entered the ship and started their investigations yesterday. 

Norman Atlantic’s recent tragedy

During the last days of December fire broke out in the lower deck of Norman Atlantic, an Italian ship, while it was travelling from Greece to Italy. The fire turned out to be a tragedy. Due to severe weather conditions and Beaufort of high intensity, it took almost two days for Greek and Italian rescuers to transfer hundreds of passengers to a safe place. Many of them were mainly suffering of hypothermia or mild carbon monoxide poisoning and were immediately taken to the hospital.

A whole mystery is surrounding this tragedy. Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation as the reason that caused the fire is still unknown. In the next few days, investigators will examine the ship’s black boxes in order to find out more about what happened that night.

Furthermore, prosecutors are expecting to find information about the captain of the ship, Argilio Giacomazzi, from the black boxes. Many of the survivors accused him of abandoning the ship first, however he denied the accusations.

Another problem is about naming the exact number of passengers who were travelling with Norman Atlantic. There was confusion on the official lists by the Italian authorities during the first days. Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said at a press conference that the exact number of passengers was not clear. He explained that the reason was that many of the passengers might have left the ship in the last stop, before the fire broke out, or because of errors on the passengers’ lists.

So far, 11 people are officially dead and more than 400 have been rescued. The number of passengers who are still missing is still unclear as it is not sure how many of them jumped in the sea in order to get away from the burning ship or how many of them were trapped in their cars in the garage.

Besides that, Giovanni Pettorino, Italian navy Admiral, said that there were 80 people among the survivors that were not at all in the passengers’ lists.

“Given that the ship was indisputably carrying illegal migrants who were probably hidden in the hold, we fear that we’ll find more dead people once we recover the wreck,” prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe said.

According to the prosecutor of Bari, who is responsible for the investigations, DNA tests and autopsies are going to be held over the next days.

Some bodies have been already recovered from Norman Atlantic. The bodies had wounds that resemble shark bites on them. However, investigators do not know if people were alive or dead when sharks attacked them and are still waiting for the autopsies.

Norman Atlantic’s recent tragedy

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Bankruptcy or Austerity for Greeks?

After three attempts of the Greek parliament to select the country's new president , the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, announced that the country is heading to early elections. Since that day a tragicomic 'fight' has started between the president of Nea dimokratia, Antonis Samaras and the president of Siriza, Alexis Tsipras, during their short political campaign.

Mr Samaras claims that the economy of Greece will recover until 2021. He explained that after the elections he will reduce some of the taxes that Greek citizens pay every year. In his speeches he appears to be optimistic about the country's future and he is convinced that the economy is already doing better.

Bankruptcy or Austerity for Greeks?

On the other hand, Mr Tsipras announced a few days ago that he will not continue the strategy of austerity, however he stated that the country will remain in the Eurozone. He will follow a new strategy, which is called "The Thessaloniki Program" in order to fight unemployment and return the country to growth, without mentioning the exact way he is going to achieve that.

Greek citizens though seem to believe no-one of the political leaders, as five years after a long period of austerity and sacrificies, future still remains uncertain for them and their properties. The two leaders resemble to play the game of cat and mouse by blaming each other publicly.

International media follow closely what is happening these days in Greece and their reports present the country's future as bleak. One of the French economic newspapers, La tribune, talks about the 'Grexit', which is nothing else than the country's exit from the Eurozone, especially if Syriza wins the elections, while another French newspaper, Le Monde, reports that Mr Samaras is just promising a new era of austerity for Greeks.

People are called to vote on the 25th of January but they still do not know who they should trust. For them all the options seem like a dead end. And as Platon, one of the most renowned Greek philosophers said: "One of the punishments for those who do not deign to deal with politics is to end up being governed by inferiors."

Greeks are called to make history with their decision in a few days. Will the country be led to a new bankrupt or will the citizens  be led to new measures of austerity?


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