It’s time to find a balance between English and Dutch as a working language

It’s time to find a balance between English and Dutch as a working language

Total panic in universities. Last week, the Parliamentary Committee on Education, Culture and Science discussed the internationalization of higher education with Minister Dajgraf. Newspapers wrote about it and mentioned, among other things, that Dijkgraf believed that undergraduate programs should in principle be taught in Dutch, with only limited space for subjects taught in a foreign language. All of this would be provided by law, with room for exceptions and appropriation, of course.

So much pathos and so little historical awareness

At the moment, there is little confidence in universities in this allocation. What I heard in the university’s digital and physical corridors was that bachelor’s degrees taught in English would be banned, that international colleagues would lose their jobs and that many study programmes, or even Dutch sciences as a whole, would be forfeited.

Special mention must be made of the reaction of the council of the University of Groningen, which stated, with much pathos and little historical awareness, that Dijkgraf’s plan ‘could mean a limitation of our autonomy to a degree not often experienced in the past 409 years of our existence. ‘.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but it would probably be tougher than now. Officially, university education must now also be in Dutch, but universities widely use the general ground for exception in the current law. As a result, one in three bachelor’s programs and nearly four in five master’s programs are in another language, most often in English.

International students can participate more easily

An English-taught education has advantages: it improves students’ English, non-Dutch-speaking scholars can also teach and international students can participate more easily – although politicians now see the latter as a disadvantage, as they fear Dutch students will be put under pressure. – Comes among more and more foreign students.

But there are also other, more fundamental drawbacks. Too much English at the expense of Dutch. This is a problem because many students later get a job where they can talk about their subject in Dutch.

But it is also a problem because teaching the Dutch language in particular creates, as Dickkraff calls it, “the bonding between students, teachers and society”. Dijkgraaf therefore wants not only more bachelor’s degrees taught in Dutch, but also compulsory attention to Dutch language skills in all study programmes, including those taught in a foreign language.

What language can we talk about?

I am teaching in a master’s program in English, History and philosophy of science. Our students, if I know them even a little bit, have a lot to say about how language shapes science. So I would like to discuss degraph plans with them.

But this is impossible. The plans are contained in a letter to Parliament, and this letter is written in Dutch. As a program taught in English, we cannot require our students to read Dutch. As a result, we cannot speak of Dijkraf’s letter to Parliament, nor of the nitrogen crisis, or of Shell’s position on Dutch universities, or of any current Dutch social debate.

I think this is a big problem, and one that we overcome easily at university. While I think it can be solved without immediately making the entire master’s program Dutch. For example, we can agree that we also require students in programs taught in English to read Dutch texts. To make this practically possible, you must help international students learn some Dutch. Dijkgraaf’s idea of ​​compulsory attention to language skills in all study programs fits perfectly with this.

Too little has been talked about for too long

So I am cautiously optimistic about this bill. But much remains unclear, and whether it will really become good law depends on the exact elaboration. If there was very little room for the English language, as critics fear, that would be a problem. But so much space for English, and so little for Dutch, is also a problem that has been talked about too little for too long.

I am glad that this is happening now, and I hope that universities can make a constructive contribution to this discussion.

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