Northern Living


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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