Pot Engelse drop. Foto | Judith van Gaal

English becomes the working language - and now what?

The matter has created a lot of commotion, but nonetheless as of this month TU/e has adopted English as its working language. Approval and implementation is still outstanding for some plans, some of which are in the hands of the Dutch Senate. The TU/e Action Plan for amending HR policy is awaiting discussion by the Executive Board and the University Council.

Jars of Liquorice Allsorts, which in the Netherlands are called 'English licorice', have been dotted around the campus since last week, with the aim of drawing attention to TU/e's change of policy. Cups printed with a question in English are intended to prompt students and employees to start a conversation in English at the coffee dispenser. Where spoken language is concerned, our university is now applying this principle: English if necessary and Dutch where possible. In principle, all written communication will be in English.

Since the decision was taken to introduce English as the working language, various employees have been very active. In an earlier article Cursor reported that various subprojects had been started. For example, lawyers have been involved in looking at which documents cannot be available only in English but must also remain in Dutch, for legal reasons for example. Think, say, of the Teaching and Examination Regulations and the management regulations. Deciding whether all the articles of association for student organizations must be in both Dutch and English, and the minutes taken at meetings, was a more difficult matter.

No difference

From now on all regulations, guidelines and (policy) documents will be written in English. When a Dutch version is required by law, both an English and a Dutch version will be written. If a Dutch version exists, the English document will refer to it and there must be no difference between the Dutch and English versions. Both versions will be adopted by the Board.

All meeting agendas and action or decision lists that are shared within the organization will be written in English. The meeting itself and the minutes of the meeting will be in English if non-Dutch speakers are present. The same applies to meetings of the University Council. At these meetings internationals will no longer have the services of an interpreter. All managerial entities may choose English as the spoken language, even if only Dutch speakers are present.

Another subproject concerns the range of courses available to students and students' own language use. One aspect that is not yet clear is the extent to which TU/e is required to bring its students' command of Dutch up to speed. “The Language and Accessibility Act should provide some clarity,” tells Lilian Halsema. She is the head of Education Policy at TU/e and is preparing the Language Policy Update, which will publish news of how the university's plans will translate into practice. “It is debatable whether we have a responsibility, or indeed a duty, to keep students' mastery of Dutch at a certain level. Whether we do or we don't, we take this responsibility very seriously.” The legislative proposal for the new Act has already been passed by the House of Representatives, but it still needs the approval of the Senate.

Good progress has been made on the third subproject, which concerns HR policy. HR advisor Monique van der Hagen-de Boer, the project's driving force, has drafted a guideline based on the UFO profiles (the national classification of university jobs) describing the level of English that can be expected of employees in certain positions. This will soon be submitted to the Executive Board for its final approval.

Van der Hagen-de Boer: “However, the directors of the TU/e services and the departmental heads can decide not to follow this guideline. They have the leeway to deviate one level up or down from the level prescribed by the UFO profile. Within the services and the departments the language level may differ for comparable positions: an auxiliary position may not require the same level of English across the departments and services.”

Reaching decisions

Nor is the question whether job vacancies should be posted in English, Dutch or both languages an easy one to answer. “We have prepared formats for English vacancy texts. The directors may do as they please, but we have noticed that more and more jobs are being recruited in English.” Similarly in the area of personnel policy, various decisions still have to be taken. The HR advisor: “A difficult decision, for instance, is whether we should be offering courses for the Administrative and Support Staff in English or in Dutch.”

The plans for personnel policy were recently discussed by the Services Council. “The main concern there was whether work pressure would increase,” reports Van der Hagen-de Boer. “I've largely been able to dispel this fear.” Halsema adds: “We do not want to exclude anyone in this transition to English, we want to include everyone in this development and to give employees opportunities for personal development.” The project members are especially keen to encourage international employees to learn Dutch.

Whether additional funds will be released to implement the plans, Halsema cannot yet say with certainty. “In any event we want to start using a good translation engine, and that would require a budget. It has not yet been decided whether we want to set up a translation agency. If departments and services need something translated, their own budgets will provide the funds.” 

The entire approach being planned will soon be submitted to the Executive Board and subsequently to the service directors and the heads of departments, who will also be responsible for implementation. The plans will be informally discussed with members of the University Council before being raised as advisory matters at a University Council meeting.

TU/e's decision to introduce English as its working language has caused quite a stir nationally. Members of parliament and opponents of this anglicization of Dutch education have expressed criticism. The discussion again became heated when the University Twente recently announced its choice of English as its working language.

On the intranet you will find more information about the transition to English as the working language at TU/e.

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