Dutch fret about English on cam­pus


The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of English as a medium of in­struc­tion at Dutch uni­ver­si­ties is ring­ing alarm bells among lo­cal lec­tur­ers and stu­dents, with some now even call­ing for gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion.

As Shake­speare’s mother tongue spreads in lec­ture halls across the coun­try’s 14 uni­ver­si­ties, the Dutch ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment is fi­nal­iz­ing a pro­posal to deal with the mat­ter.

Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union (EU) next year has only ac­cel­er­ated the phe­nom­e­non, with in­ter­na­tional stu­dents flock­ing to the Nether­lands, which pro­vides an ideal base for those wish­ing to study in English within the EU.

Some 90 per­cent of the Dutch pop­u­la­tion speaks English, to the envy of many of its less An­glo-com­pe­tent neigh­bors.

To add to the at­trac­tion, many lo­cal

“We must pre­serve all Euro­pean lan­guages and cul­tures. Dutch stu­dents no longer mas­ter their na­tive tongue.”

uni­ver­si­ties are much cheaper than their Bri­tish or US-based coun­ter­parts.

English us­age is par­tic­u­larly dom­i­nant at mas­ter’s de­gree level.

Some “65 per­cent of bach­e­lor’s de­grees are in English while 15 per­cent of mas­ter’s de­grees are in Dutch,” ed­u­ca­tion min­istry spokesman Michiel Hen­drikx tells AFP.

That some 85 per­cent of all mas­ter’s de­grees are pre­sented in English riles the largest teach­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion, whose acro­nym BON stands for “Bet­ter Ed­u­ca­tion Nether­lands” in Dutch.

“The Dutch lan­guage is grad­u­ally dis­ap­pear­ing from cam­puses,” laments BON’s chair­man Ad Ver­brugge, stress­ing the “se­ri­ous­ness” of an “un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion in Europe.”


Pressed by heated de­bate from cam­pus to par­lia­ment, the Dutch Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry will soon pub­lish a let­ter “with the min­is­ter’s po­si­tion on the sub­ject,” Hen­drikx says.

This fol­lows a re­port in Fe­bru­ary by the Royal Dutch Acad­emy for Arts and Sciences (KNAW), which blasted the Nether­lands for “fail­ing to prop­erly pro­tect and uphold the qual­ity of Dutch as a lan­guage and over­es­ti­mat­ing the im­por­tance of English.”

“Uni­ver­si­ties are forced to of­fer cour­ses in English to re­main in the race” for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in Europe, says Ver­brugge, a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Am­s­ter­dam. “We are wit­ness­ing a ‘lan­gui­cide,’” he tells AFP. “We al­ways ad­vo­cate di­ver­sity but here we’re killing a mi­nor­ity lan­guage.”

“We must pre­serve all Euro­pean lan­guages and cul­tures... Dutch stu­dents no longer mas­ter their na­tive tongue,” he adds.


Ver­brugge and BON have now launched a law­suit against two Dutch uni­ver­si­ties they ac­cuse of killing the Dutch lan­guage through the “Angli­ciza­tion” of cour­ses.

The eastern Twente Uni­ver­sity and the south­ern Uni­ver­sity of Maas­tricht of­fer two mas­ter’s de­gree cour­ses in psy­chol­ogy ex­clu­sively in English.

BON called it an “im­pov­er­ish­ment of the teach­ing qual­ity and a dan­ger­ous aban­don­ment in the learn­ing of the Dutch lan­guage.”

“We must call the uni­ver­si­ties to or­der be­cause they’re vi­o­lat­ing the law,” which states that all les­son and ex­ams must be in Dutch, the union says.

An ex­emp­tion can only be made when the sub­ject mat­ter was di­rectly re­lated to a dif­fer­ent lan­guage such as English, for in­stance in in­ter­na­tional busi­ness man­age­ment stud­ies.

BON says the ef­fects of such a lan­guage pol­icy can even be seen in the la­bor mar­ket.

Young ex­pa­tri­ates grad­u­at­ing in English at Dutch uni­ver­si­ties are of­ten tempted to re­main in the Nether­lands, which has a flour­ish­ing econ­omy and pleas­ant liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment, thus tak­ing jobs from lo­cal grad­u­ates, it says.

Ver­brugge says BON was un­sure whether the law­suits would be suc­cess­ful “but at least we’ve raised the is­sue for dis­cus­sion.”

Many Dutch stu­dents agree, say­ing they did not un­der­stand the value of “pre­tend­ing to be English in front of a lec­turer who is just as equally Dutch.” —


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