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“For years the Netherlands has had its back to Germany”

“For years the Netherlands has had its back to Germany”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

MAASTRICHT. Five thousand German students in Maastricht, against three hundred Dutch students in Aachen. Where does this difference come from? This was the theme of a discussion held in the Feestzaal at the Faculty of Law last Monday.

“I grew up in Roermond. We watched a lot of German television at home. Today, the Dutch no longer come in contact with the German language so easily. We deprive ourselves of something in doing so,” Karin Straus (Dutch) begins; she is spokesperson for education for the Dutch liberal party VVD in Parliament. Together with the German dean of Psychology, Bernadette Jansma, she forms the panel that will discuss matters with each other and with the audience in the hall. The evening was organised by the de Deutsch-Niederländische Gesellschaft zu Aachen (DNG) and the Institute for Transnational and Euregional Cross Border Cooperation and Mobility (ITEM).

According to Straus, the Netherlands has had its back to Germany for years. “Everything is focused on Western Holland or far away countries. That there is a good technical university just around the corner, is something a lot of students don’t know.” German is not cool, remarked Frank Cörvers, Maastricht professor of Transition on the Labour Market, during his welcoming speech. “My children have no affinity for that language.”

As a result, Dutch people’s knowledge of German is declining. “You will not survive a German university with secondary-school German,” says Straus. German universities think so too. A German visitor tells that requirements are getting higher, some institutes asking for near native level. “That makes it almost impossible for Dutch students to be accepted.”

Unnecessary, feels Bernadette Jansma. “When I first came to the Netherlands to work at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen, my English was not very good. But I was asked because of my knowledge and expertise. Learning the language happens automatically. That is what I also see in the tutorial groups here in Maastricht, students learn from each other. We pay attention to more than just grades when they enrol. Motivation is important. If you have the courage to cross the border, you most likely have enough courage to tackle obstacles.”

Jansma points out the differences between Maastricht and Germany. “Ask yourselves: ‘Why do Germans not stay there’ instead of ‘Why do the Dutch not leave’. Education here is much more small-scale, the university is international, the facilities are good and the service is much friendlier. If you have a question, you are given help. At my former university, there was an opportunity once a month to collect diplomas from the secretary’s office. It was raining and I didn’t have a bag with me. When I asked for something to cover it, the reply I got was ‘that as well?’.”

Another issue is recognition of diplomas, which often causes problems. “If there is one country that we should have agreements with, then it would be Germany,” says Straus. “They are our neighbours.” She argues that especially intermediate vocational education institutes in border areas should get together and set up joint curriculums. “Schools in the Netherlands have a lot of freedom when it comes to setting up their own education programmes, but few make use of this.” She refers to the small-scale projects in which there is already collaboration. According to Jansma, this is the best way. “You just have to make a start, and then you can use best practices to show that it is possible.”

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