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New language policy: (good) English where necessary, Dutch must improve

New language policy: (good) English where necessary, Dutch must improve

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MAASTRICHT. The choice of English or Dutch in classrooms should depend on the content and the objective of the study programme. If it is for the international labour market, English should prevail. Dutch students should also pay more attention to their proficiency in Dutch. Foreign staff should also learn to speak Dutch.

These are a few of the basic principles underlying the new language policy that the Executive Board recently presented to the University Council. The details of the policy, in particular the financial implications, will follow later. It is clear that the Executive Board feel national politicians breathing down their necks. Discussions about the anglicisation of higher education are heating up; Minister of Education Van Engelshoven has announced that she will take a critical look. Along with Wageningen University, Maastricht University with its many study programmes in English counts as a trendsetter in this area.

Officially, the UM is still bilingual, but in practice English has taken the upper hand. Most policy documents are produced in English only. Even the meetings of representative advisory bodies with exclusively Dutch participants often take place in English, for the courtesy of the English minutes. Whether this will change, is not clear.

In the Executive Board’s note, language is viewed primarily as a means of communication. Hence the practical approach: where the content of the study programme transcends the national level and the labour market of the graduates is an international one, the programme must be provided in English. If this is not the case, then Dutch is the obvious choice. In addition - and this is new - more room will be given to other languages, such as French or German. Albeit only in minors that are not part of the official curriculum, answered president of the Executive Board Martin Paul to a question from the University Council.

The UM expresses its commitment to offering additional support: students will be given more opportunities for training in subjects such as academic writing in English in order to facilitate the transition from a bachelor's in one language to a master's in another. The opportunities for learning another language will also be expanded. Many foreign students already learn Basic Dutch at the Language Centre. The Executive Board acknowledges for the first time that the linguistic proficiency in the Dutch language by Dutch students has declined. “Their academic writing is not good enough,” Paul said. It is for that reason that courses are already being given at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS).

This also fits in with the national discussion on language in higher education: universities are legally bound to improve Dutch students' “ability to express themselves in Dutch”.

There is no lucky escape for lecturers. In the future, higher demands regarding their language skills will be set explicitly. They must reach level C1 (depending on the course language in English or Dutch); this will also be included in the performance interviews. This C1 requirement is part of a national agreement between university umbrella organisation VSNU and the government, said Paul. It is not an entry requirement, but employees will be expected to reach this level within “a reasonable period of time”. This is different from students, who must prove beforehand that their language skills meet the requirements, the University Council concluded.

Foreign lecturers - and this is new too - will be given the task to learn Dutch and reach such a level that they “can function in Dutch”. Minimum requirements will be drawn up for this purpose.

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