Europe watches as Dutch seek caps on English-language students

A backlash in the Netherlands against teaching in English could spread to other countries, observers have predicted, after Dutch universities published a new strategy to deal with concerns over poor quality teaching and the alleged erosion of Dutch culture. Times Higher Education reports.

There has been a long-running debate on the language of teaching in the Netherlands, where three-quarters of master’s programmes at research universities are in English only. But in the past few weeks the issue has come to a head.

In a new internationalisation strategy, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) proposed separate number caps for English-speaking students on dual-language courses to prevent them squeezing out Dutch students, a solution now also being mulled by the minister of education.

At bachelor’s level, 23 per cent of courses are English-only, and a further 12 per cent of students can choose their language of study.

But the universities’ solutions may not satisfy critics. Ad Verbrugge, chair of Better Education Netherlands (BON), an association of teachers from schools, universities and other institutes that campaigns to promote education quality, said that there was a risk that Dutch students would no longer need the language at university to succeed, which would mean that “Dutch becomes obsolete”.

He repeatedly stressed that the organisation was not against English as a language, and that his concerns had “nothing to do with drawing ourselves back behind the dykes”. “It’s about the diversity of Europe, which is under threat right now,” he said.

Another complaint is that English teaching has been of low quality; the new VSNU proposals stress that universities need to make sure that lecturers’ English is up to scratch. “It’s a race to the bottom,” Mr Verbrugge said. Rather than English, students were taught “globish”, he argued, referring to a simplified version of the language.

He said that he thought resistance to switching to English could spread across Europe. “A lot of colleagues from abroad are writing to me and supporting our cause,” he added.

Read more Europe watches as Dutch seek caps on English-language students

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