The unstoppable rise of English

More and more students are taught in English. Good for the internationalization, is the idea, however doubt strikes. ‘A Dutch poet will only understand an English poem when he knows the depths of his own language.’
Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

Image: Ernesto de Quesada

The Wageningen University has no Dutch masters and the University of Utrecht might soon also stop. Also in hbo English is on the rise. But what does this mean for the quality of education, SP and CDA wanted to know. The two parties arranged a discussion on Friday with teachers, students and directors.


‘I cannot do my research without mastering Dutch to perfection’, Gabriël van den Brink kicked off, professor public administration in Tilburg. ‘Prohibiting Dutch language classes is like prohibiting a biologist to use a microscope.’

It was a firm opening to the discussion, although Van den Brink hurried to add that he is not against English language programmes. ‘But Dutch should be the foundation. From there you can learn a second language, that is fantastic.’

The choice for English or Dutch should be made per education programme, everyone agreed. Professor Tiny van Boekel from Wageningen emphasized that it does not make sense to have all the education programmes in the Netherlands in Dutch. Although his institution was considering to also make all the bachelor programmes in English, this was because ‘internationalizing was substantial for the domain in which Wageningen operates.’

Internationalizing was substantial for the domain in which Wageningen operates.

Tiny van Boekel, director of the educational institute of Wageningen University


Also the businesses are not really waiting for this, said Haroon Sheikh, head of the international think-tank. According to him, graduates know the jargon and all kinds of English words. ‘But what is lacking is the capacity to explain what those terms mean.’ They are missing the refinements of the language. ‘A Dutch poet will only understand an English poem when he knows the depths of his own language.’Moreover, as the only invitee with a non-western background he wanted to emphasize, education in Dutch is important for students with a different mother tongue. ‘Exclusion from the labour market has much less to do with your last name than with the ability to express yourself in a language. A good connection with the team, understanding jokes, which requires a lot of language skills.’

High dikes

‘I think we all agree that a good knowledge of the Dutch language is important’, VVD-member of parliament Pieter Duisenberg noted. ‘The question of course is: how do you offer students an international environment, without neglecting Dutch language skills?’ And then with a sneer to his colleagues of SP and CDA: ‘The initiators obviously see a polder in front of them with high dikes. But of course it is important that we prepare our students to play a leading role, also abroad.’

CDA and SP are mainly irritated by the education groups that choose for English for financial reasons. According to the two parties students from outside the European Union bring in money because they pay high institutional tuition fees. Institutions can establish this rate themselves.

How do you offer students an international environment, without neglecting Dutch language skills?

Pieter Duisenberg, member of parliament for the VVD

For a region which has to deal with aging and shrinkage, training foreigners is indeed important, the college president, Martin Paul of the University of Maastricht, acknowledged. According to him this has nothing to do with the desire to maximize profits. Also director Wim Boomkamp of the Association of Colleges (Vereniging Hogescholen) did not agree with that accusation.

‘we will suffer’

According to the professors and university teachers present, it does play a role that some educations may disappear if no foreign students are attracted. ‘Due to this there is little discussion on such a decision, because everyone thinks: if we do not do it, we will suffer’, says university teacher Greek, Emilie van Opstall at the Vrije University. The parliament members use the information from the roundtable discussion for the debate with minister of education Bussemaker about the strategic agenda for higher education. Which will take place on Monday.

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