When Dutch students in my tutor groups suggest that international students should better integrate and learn the local language, I always ask them whether they would consider taking a course in German as well. After all, German is the language of the majority of our European Studies students and is pretty useful these days in business and politics. They typically look completely astonished.
I thought of these conversations when I read the article in the Observant on the return of the Dutch language. It speaks of tremendous provincialism to ask 'the other' to adjust, particularly given that nobody really owns our university. To my mind, a Chinese student from Beijing is as much a 'shareholder' as a Dutch student from Amsterdam. In fact, many students and colleagues choose Maastricht, because it has become a genuinely international university.
There are also serious practical considerations. Try hiring a lecturer in European politics – let alone a professor – who speaks the Dutch language. This is nearly impossible. What is more, a language requirement constitutes indirect discrimination under EU law given that our teaching and research is in English. It is simply prohibited. Finally, in terms of students, we are competing internationally to attract the best and the brightest. They are looking for advanced courses in modern finance, trade law and public policy, not for Dutch language classes.
Make no mistake. I am a firm supporter of multilingualism. Our university should indeed aim to establish an atmosphere where colleagues and students speak three or more languages. However, instead of wasting our energy on Dutch, I suggest that we actively promote French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.
Dr. Hylke Dijkstra, postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences