“We should accept that our student body currently does not have the right composition in nationalities that we would need to get even close to becoming an international university”, says UCM-student and University Council member Peter Cernohorsky in a personal capacity in this opinion piece. His solution: attract more students from Britain, USA and Australia.
UM’s internationalization policy should redirect its focus on attracting more English native speakers so as to facilitate the integration of the myriad of nationalities present at our university.
Internationalization at the UM has reached an indisputable low-point. The university presents itself offering an “international environment” but anyone on the inside knows this is not the case. Indeed we have many different nationalities at our university but rather than being an integrated social whole, these nationalities are mostly segregated from each other by a plain old language barrier. All things considered however, our current state of affairs is really not that surprising.
The vast majority of programs offered at our university advocate the English language as being the lingua franca. A fine goal to set indeed, but rather strange considering that the two major nationalities are in fact Dutch and German and neither of them contains English native speakers. Also, the luxury of being part of a majority is that you can usually converse in your native tongue. Anyone part of such a majority would have very little incentive to bother speaking any other language.
Most people at our university will know all this to be true and even though there are certainly some who do take the effort of properly integrating (I tip my hat to you), they remain a minority that our university cannot use to create a ripple effect. The powers that be at UM have long been in the process of revising the internationalization policy. Our rector, Gerard Mols, has issued a committee to investigate the root of the problem and so a report has been produced that accurately addresses the issue. For this I am grateful. This report however, was written in April 2010. Now we have arrived at the moment where changes can be made that can bring this university closer to the international status it so covets. Now is also, sadly, the moment for bad policy making.
Many suggestions have been made already, many of them lacking in broad vision and long-term perspective. It is an easy pitfall to think that whatever works for one faculty will also work for the other. A common room in UCM certainly helps a bit along the way of integrating students there but building one at the FHML will not bring the majority of Dutch, some German, and the remaining minority of Saudi students together. More Mix ‘n Mingle events? They only reach so little students and the possible effects rarely last long. How about increasing the availability of Dutch language courses at our Language Center? Sure. Provided that there are indeed that many international students that would bother with learning Dutch, which is again not that large a number. All such measures only enjoy a short-lived momentum and do not get to the root of the problem. We should accept that our student body currently does not have the right composition in nationalities that we would need to get even close to becoming an international university.
The shortest way to get where we want to is paradoxically also the most time-consuming. If we would increase promotion in for instance the UK, we could attract more English native speakers. Distancing ourselves from the Dutch-German majority composition and importing more Brits, Yanks, and Aussies would provide UM with a counterbalance to all those students that cling to their own language. Some progress has been made already considering that UM experienced an influx, though still a relatively small one, of UK students. This is a good start but should be pursued even further. I sincerely hope that they will become the vanguard of many more English natives to come. I’m not saying this is the answer to all our problems but I wouldn’t be laying my credibility as a University Council member on the line like this if I wasn’t a 100% sure that this measure is simply necessary. Admittedly, it would take 3, 4, probably even 5 years and quite some funding before this would show some results but it beats the hell out of anything I’ve heard so far.
Peter Cernohorsky, UCM-student