THE NETHERLANDS/MAASTRICHT. Again the advance of English in higher education is a topic of discussion in Dutch parliament. Political parties SP (Socialist Party) and CDA (Christian Democrats) are worried and their education spokespersons have therefore organised a hearing on 10 December. One of those invited is Maastricht President of the Executive Board Martin Paul.
A few days after the hearing, on 14 December, there will be a debate in parliament with education minister Bussemaker about the Strategic Agenda for Higher Education. SP education specialist Jasper van Dijk: “You can make a note of it now that it is my intention to propose a resolution stating that the law should be complied with more closely, in order that the Dutch language should be respected more in higher education.”
This law, the WHW (Higher Education and Scientific Research Act), includes Article 7.2, which says that the language used in higher education is Dutch, and that one may only deviate from this if the specific nature, the set-up or the quality of education or the origin of the students requires such, in accordance with code of conduct set by the institute’s Board.
Van Dijk had already submitted written questions to the minister last summer, among others about monitoring compliance with this article in the law. The answer was not specific enough, as minister Bussemaker wants to work on the basis of “trust and autonomy” in and from the institutes. She will only start to worry when “the quality of education” is an issue, she said.
But does higher education not have a cultural task when it comes to the maintenance and use of the Dutch language, Van Dijk wanted to know. Yes, the minister answered, higher education has a “special” and even a “self-evident responsibility with regard to Dutch as a cultural and scientific language”. It is for that reason that institutes are expected to have an “integral language policy”.
Van Dijk suspects universities and schools of higher education of introducing English mainly for what he refers to as “economic reasons”: more foreign students to compensate for a decline in Dutch student numbers, and a higher score in international rankings. Bussemaker states that if it is “solely for those reasons”, she is also against it.
Last week, President of the Executive Board Paul gave the University Council a preview of his argumentation at the upcoming hearing: the UM is an international university, which wishes to train students for the international labour market and therefore wants to offer them an international classroom, where individuals from different cultures can meet.
Does the SP feel that English should be banned from a university like the one in Maastricht? “No,” says Van Dijk, “but I do feel that there should be a Dutch equivalent for every course given in English. You should be able to choose to complete a study programme in Dutch.”
In the meantime, the University Council, as chairman Herman Kingma explained, has been discussing the language policy behind closed doors in representative advisory circles for nine months. Decisions have been taken there which are now contained in a memo. The basic principle, according to Kingma, is the democratic right of every member to be informed both orally and in writing in an understandable way. For foreign members, this means in English. Because the Dutch usually speak English, this is not a problem, and where necessary a member can always revert back to Dutch, as long as it is translated on the spot. In principle, meetings are always held in English, even if there are no foreign members present, so that the minutes can also be written in English. An example of what is no longer acceptable, says the University Council, is submitting an institute’s budget entirely in Dutch, as happened only recently.
Considering the official pronounced bilingualism of the UM, why cannot all documents be made available in both languages? Kingma: “That is too expensive and too time-consuming, and would cause delays.”