Legal action threatened over English in higher education

Campaign group Beter Onderwijs Nederland (Better Education in the Netherlands) is threatening to take legal action against the anglicization of education at Dutch universities of applied sciences and universities. “Everything's got to be in English, even the nameplates.”

They are holding off until they've heard the new cabinet's plans, says spokesperson Presley Bergen of Beter Onderwijs Nederland (BON). Not that they expect anything positive, “but we must give people a chance”.

In the Lower House English-taught education is sometimes criticized, but so far that hasn't been enough to stop the advance. If there isn't a significant change, campaign group BON will take legal action. “Where a Dutch lecturer is teaching a group of Dutch students English is often spoken, and there isn't even a foreigner in the room.”

Higher education is anglicizing at a rapid pace, explains Bergen, right down to the nameplates. He understands that the universities of applied sciences and universities have recruited a great many foreign students “and they too want to be able to find their way,” but it is already going too far. Then at least have the decency to do everything in two languages.

“At some universities of applied sciences and universities, you virtually never come across Dutch any more. This is doing nothing for quality. Lecturers are having to hold meetings in English as soon as there happens to be a single foreign lecturer in an entire team.”

There is always room for exceptions, he adds. The university colleges, for example, which are intended specifically for students who will go on to work in an international environment. Or some technical degree programs that happen to have been taught in English for decades.

But why should regular degree programs be included in this trend? It isn't good for education. “The command of English of most lecturers is below par, and students complain about that. But even when a native speaker is giving the lecture, the students only grasp half the content.”

Universities of applied sciences and universities are keen to use English-taught programs to recruit foreign students. For Bergen, this is a thorn in his side. “You should be teaching in English only once they have arrived; you shouldn't do it to encourage them to come here.”

And the internationalization that the cabinet thinks is so important? “A specious argument,” says Bergen. “Of the total number of Dutch students, 95 percent stay in the Netherlands to work. So English is completely unnecessary.”

Nor is he convinced of the economic benefits of foreign students. “The vast majority come here to study at the expense of the Dutch taxpayer and afterwards they return to their own countries. But even if they were a source of income, then you should still give priority to your own language. It's a cultural obligation.”

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