Students who speak three languages, bilingual members of staff held accountable for their linguistic skills: a new note on language policy at Maastricht University sets high objectives.
It is still only a discussion note, says its author, Language Centre director Peter Wilms van Kersbergen, “but the essence is supported by the Executive Board”. Further detailing will follow, including an overview of the financial consequences. The plan underlines the great importance of language proficiency for an international university like the UM, but also for individuals. The note refers to research that shows that knowledge of foreign languages increases intellectual capacities, also in other areas. A more concrete reason is the usefulness of language proficiency on the international labour market, for which the UM also trains.
There is more emphasis on the position of Dutch than in previous notes on the subject. English may have become more or less the lingua franca at the UM, but the university is based in the Netherlands, has its roots here, and true internationalisation implies a thorough awareness of the culture of the receiving country. For this reason, both students and employees will from now on be expected to have at least a basic command of Dutch. The note does not refer to this as compulsory yet, Wilms van Kersbergen admits, “but it would be a logical step in the framework of the UM’s ambitions; we must offer a basic language and culture course as a matter of fact”.
The level of language proficiency should be raised anyway. It is for this reason that the note suggests that when students enter the university, they should be trained in the use of academic English, focussed on the high requirements set by the PBL system. At the end of the road, their knowledge should be tested and the results should ideally be mentioned on their certificates. But that is not all. In addition to English and Dutch, knowledge of a third language is highly recommended, in particular the language of the countries where students complete part of their studies.
So trilingualism for students and bilingualism for the academic and support staff should be the starting point, the note states. Newly appointed staff will be tested on the basis of these requirements, but once they have been taken on they can raise their level. This is not optional, because language requirements should be included in performance and assessment interviews, as well as in the University Teaching Qualification, says the note, which was discussed by a university council committee yesterday (Wednesday, 14 March) after Observant closed.