Minister reviews law on English-taught education

Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven will examine whether the section of law on English in higher education should be amended. The section in question dates from 1991, “when the world was a very different place,” says the minister. Parliamentary questions were asked back in February and March about TU/e's intention to introduce English as its working language in 2020. At that time the minister said that she saw no pressing reasons at TU/e for the exclusive use of English in administrative relations and employee participation matters.

The Lower House debated last Tuesday the 'anglicization' taking place in higher education. The number of English-taught programs has increased sharply in recent years. Some 23 percent of university Bachelor's are now taught in English; for Master's the figure is in the region of 70 percent.

Too many, think some members of the Lower House, who were therefore keen to debate with the minister. At TU/e by the way with the exception of Biomedical Engineering - where a hybrid form is in place for the Bachelor's - all Bachelor's and Master's programs have been taught in English since September 2017.

Minister Van Engelshoven, who in June of this year will unveil her vision of internationalization, would have preferred to have held off this debate until later, given that it has close ties with internationalization. She did not have a ready answer for all the questions she faced.

Legal clash

The coalition agreement requires the cabinet to supervise more closely the upholding of the law that states that programs may only be English-taught provided this adds value. This is not, however, what the law says. According to the relevant section of law, institutions may only deviate from the Dutch language if the specific nature, organization or quality of the education, or the origins of the students, so necessitates.

This is problematic, says the minister. “In my letter I revisit the question whether the law is sufficient. The coalition agreement and law conflict; we'll need to bring this discussion into line.”

The minister can appreciate the concerns of a number of members of parliament about the possibility of Dutch students being marginalized on English-taught programs with a ceiling on student numbers. She understands that some universities wish to give Dutch students priority, but has no readymade solution, if only because she is bound by European laws and regulations.


TU/e announced at the end of January that it wished to introduce English as its working language in 2020. It is adopting the principle that English will be the language for writing and speaking. Communication will take place in Dutch where possible and in English where necessary.

Yoram Meijaard and Erik van Heijst of the student faction Groep-één spoke with other members of the Dutch National Students Association (ISO) about this subject on March 23rd, at a meeting also attended  by officials of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Moreover, a couple of officials visited TU/e last week for a meeting also attended by Groep-één.

Meijaard: “As ISO members, we were able to convey that we are perfectly happy with programs being taught in English provided the preconditions are good ones. Lecturers must be able to speak good English and they must be able to get used to a more diverse classroom.”

Meijaard recognizes that the introduction of English as the working language at TU/e is "politically highly sensitive ". “Most of the criticism is coming from the parties not in the coalition. I am not assuming this will have consequences for TU/e policy. My main hope is that the law will be clarified.”

Back in February questions were raised in the Lower House by SP (Socialists) and the CDA (Christian Democrats) about the new language policy at TU/e. In answer to the CDA's questions, the minister indicated "that at TU/e she saw no pressing reasons for the exclusive use of English in administrative relations and employee participation matters".

To further the implementation of TU/e's language policy, a project has been formulated in which TU/e will address in greater detail the use of English in matters of administration and employee participation.

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