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English at university is fine, says minister, as long as standards don’t suffer

THE NETHERLANDS. The Dutch higher education system can continue to offer more courses and degrees in English, as long as it leads to an improvement in standards and that Dutch students are not forced out, education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said on Monday.

In addition, it should be possible for universities and colleges to give priority to Dutch students, Engelshoven said in her long-awaited position paper on the higher education sector. There has been mounting concern in recent months about the surge in English at universities and last month they too published a document calling for action.

The universities and hbo colleges called for the number of courses given in English to be capped in an attempt to contain the growing number of international students, who now account for around 10% of the student body. The institutions also said that matriculation and course fees for students from outside the European Union should be raised. Students from EU countries have the right to pay the equivalent fees to their Dutch counterparts, currently around €2,000.


Van Engelshoven said that she wanted to encourage the use of English because it benefits Dutch science, the knowledge-based economy and students themselves. ‘I support an open Dutch society in which we dare to look across boundaries,’ she said. ‘But I am not closing my eyes to the consequences of internationalisation and that is why I am going to ensure there is a place for every Dutch student.’

Currently universities are only supposed to offer degrees in English if that is ‘necessary’, although the rules are widely flouted. A lobby group campaigning for better education in the Netherlands is actually taking Maastricht and Twente universities to court for offering too many degree courses in English without good reason to do so.

The main points of the minister’s plan:

  • Limits to the number of student places on some English-language courses
  • Better checks on the English skills of lecturers
  • Higher fees for non EU students
  • English courses must be linked to labour market demand
  • Central registration of English courses
  • Better coordination to ensure every degree subject is available in Dutch
  • More effort to encourage Dutch students to study abroad
  • Try to encourage more foreign students to stay in NL past graduation
  • More research on financial impact of foreign students on education system
  • National action plan on student housing with possible campaign against ‘no internationals’ policy

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