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Education

Backlash as English becomes preferred language at some Dutch universities

Britain’s exit from the European Union next year has only accelerated the phenomenon, with international students flocking to the Netherlands which provides an ideal base for those wishing to study in English within the EU

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 8:12pm

The growing popularity of English as a medium of instruction at Dutch universities is ringing alarm bells among local lecturers and students, with some now even calling for government intervention.

As Shakespeare’s mother tongue spreads in lecture halls across the country’s 14 universities, the Dutch education department is finalising a proposal to deal with the matter.

Britain’s exit from the European Union next year has only accelerated the phenomenon, with international students flocking to the Netherlands which provides an ideal base for those wishing to study in English within the EU.

Some 90 per cent of the Dutch population speaks English, to the envy of many of its less Anglo-competent neighbours.

To add to the attraction, many local universities are much cheaper than their British or US-based counterparts.

English usage is particularly dominant at Master’s degree level.

Some “65 per cent of bachelor’s degrees are in Dutch while 15 per cent of master’s degrees are in Dutch,” education ministry spokesman Michiel Hendrikx said.

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That some 85 per cent of all master’s degrees are presented in English riles the largest teachers’ association, whose acronym BON stands for “Better Education Netherlands” in Dutch.

“The Dutch language is gradually disappearing from campuses,” lamented BON’s chairman Ad Verbrugge, stressing the “seriousness” of an “unprecedented situation in Europe”.

Pressed by heated debate from campus to parliament, the Dutch Education Ministry will soon publish a letter “with the minister’s position on the subject,” Hendrikx said.

This follows a report in February by the Royal Dutch Academy for Arts and Sciences (KNAW), which blasted the Netherlands for “failing to properly protect and uphold the quality of Dutch as a language and overestimating the importance of English”.

“Universities are forced to offer courses in English to remain in the race” for international students in Europe, said Verbrugge, a philosophy professor at the University of Amsterdam.

“We are witnessing a ‘languicide’,” he said.

“We always advocate diversity but here we’re killing a minority language.”

“We must preserve all European languages and cultures ... Dutch students no longer master their native tongue,” he added.

Verbrugge and BON have now launched a lawsuit against two Dutch universities they accuse of killing the Dutch language through the ‘anglicisation’ of courses.

The eastern Twente University and the southern University of Maastricht offer two master’s degree courses in psychology exclusively in English.

BON says the effects of such a language policy can even be seen in the labour market.

Young expatriates graduating in English at Dutch universities are often tempted to remain in the Netherlands which has a flourishing economy and pleasant living environment, thus taking jobs from local graduates, it said.

Verbrugge said BON was unsure whether the lawsuits would be successful “but at least we’ve raised the issue for discussion.”

Many Dutch students agree, saying they did not understand the value of “pretending to be English in front of a lecturer who is just as equally Dutch.”