By Levin Stamm
The energy crisis is hitting AUC students’ wallets with full force. Gas prices will more than double starting from January 1 2023, driving up rents in the dorms for the second time within a year. Scholarship students feel particularly impacted by the elevated costs of housing, as they forecast their marginally-positive account balances dwindling to zero.
DUWO announced the rent increase on Monday morning, naming the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war as the reason for their unconventional decision to raise utility costs during the academic year. While tenants in four-person rooms are the least affected with an increase of approximately 20 euros per month, single-room-tenants face rent increases of more than 50 euros per month. Next to gas, the flat monthly rate charged for water will also increase from 7 to 14 euros.
“The prices at which we now have to buy energy are so high that we are forced to substantially increase the energy costs in the advanced charges as from January,” wrote DUWO chairwoman Anneleen Lagae in an email. In other years including 2022, service charges had been adjusted on 1 July.
At Carolina MacGillavrylaan, Lola Collingbourne felt surprisingly calm as she read the words of DUWO’s top manager upon receiving the email. “It didn’t faze me at first,” she says. But as the third-year Social Science major discovered that her monthly rent would soon increase by 50 euros, she realised that the rise in price would affect her more than expected.
Collingbourne is one of more than 50 AUC students that receive financial aid through the AUC Scholarship Fund (ASF). While AUC covers her full tuition, financially-independent Collingbourne still needs to cover other expenses like rent or grocery herself.
To do so, she has two jobs next to studying and works a total of 30 hours per week. “Adding an extra 50 euros is just unaffordable,” she says. Having already fallen behind on paying rent in the past while expecting her salaries, she now fears that this may become a more frequent occurence.
What to do? Given that working more hours is “practically impossible”, Collingbourne has no option but to cut down on her current expenses. “The rent increase takes away my leeway to enjoy life a little more,” she says.
The Dutch government offers a ray of hope for students in Collingbourne’s situation. The Ministry of Finance has notified some AUC students that it will increase the total amount of rent benefit they receive in 2023.
Third-year Social Science major Melike Fenercigil is one of them. In 2023, she will receive an additional 229 euros of rent benefit, lowering the effective rise of rent to around 30 euros per month.
Even though her AUC scholarship contributes towards both her rent and her tuition fee, it will not increase to compensate for the higher rent fees. Born and raised in Turkey, it is not possible for Fenercigil to increase working hours for her part-time job – non-EEA students are not allowed to work more than 16 hours per week in the Netherlands.
While Fenercigil states that she is not particularly concerned about her financial security, she acknowledges that the rent increase may put her “in a bad position at the end of the month” and expects to have to cut back on expenses relating to her social life.
For AUC students running the risk of not being able to pay their bills due to increased prices, the Solidarity Fund offers a straightforward solution: “We can give out zero-interest loans to help students tide over the financial distress they may face through the rent increase,” says board member and third-year Social Science major Emre Erciyes.