“The underlying principle is that we will write and speak in English. We will communicate at TU/e in Dutch where that's possible and in English when required,” clarifies Lilian Halsema. As a policymaker at TU/e, she was requested by the Executive Board to draft the plan for a complete switch to English. “Among other things, this means that we won't hold meetings in English if everyone present speaks Dutch, but if anyone present doesn't speak Dutch, we will speak English.”
In principle, written communication will also be English, except where, say, collaboration with external partners or legal requirements necessitate that communication takes place in Dutch - or if the target group consists only of Dutch speakers. Agendas and reports that need to be accessible to a broad audience will soon be written in English.
Language must not become a barrier
The decision to switch entirely to English is driven by various reasons, says Halsema. “No integrated language policy was in place and we thought it important that one was introduced,” she says. “We wanted to increase accessibility in various areas, such as employee participation, and we wanted to prevent language becoming a barrier to communication and community building. Among academic staff, the working language is already largely English and almost all TU/e programs are taught in English. Only the Executive Board, the TU/e services, and the employee participation bodies still communicate mainly in Dutch.”
English will not be introduced as the working language overnight. “If approval is given, we would prefer a developmental approach, phasing in the change over a number of years. The proposal is that we adopt English as our working language on January 1st 2020. But we will be getting the ball rolling as soon as possible. Employee development is an ongoing process. Heads of TU/e services and departments will take stock of what needs to change and what that requires. We'll also need to talk to the study and student associations.”
The level of English required for all jobs will have to be established, and this will have to be taken into account in the hiring policy. For example, lecturers currently need to have language level C1. "If someone is not yet at the level they need, they will of course have the opportunity to develop their language skills.” In addition, it will be necessary to review all rules and guidelines, says Halsema. “Certain texts have to be written in Dutch, that's a legal requirement. We will have to take a good look at where that's necessary.”
The Dutch language will not be neglected due to this measure, believes Halsema. “We also need to give our students the opportunity to acquire good Dutch language skills, with an emphasis on speaking and writing. This can be done with courses, as well as by, say, offering an elective course in Dutch.”
As yet Halsema has heard few complaints among the groups to whom these plans have been explained (including deans and the heads of TU/e services), but she is aware that they will raise practical difficulties and dilemmas. “Just imagine, for example, trying to take the minutes of a meeting in English when the meeting is being held in Dutch.” Halsema does not expect this measure to entail very many additional costs. “There's sufficient training budget, and we aren't yet making full use of it.”
She summarizes, “The point is that this is a direction that we are keen to take. We want to bring about a culture change and we are going to look closely at what we need to do to achieve this.”
On Monday February 5th, the University Council will give its reaction on this subject during its meeting. This is being held from 16.00 hrs onwards in the large hall in Kennispoort. The members of the University Council have the right to prior consultation on this subject. The council members did not wish to give a reaction to Cursor in advance of the meeting because they are still busy forming their opinion, and are engaged in the decision-making process.