Professor Heringa: lawsuit against the UM for anglicisation “stands no chance”


MAASTRICHT. The lawsuit filed by the association 'Beter Onderwijs Nederland (BON, or Better Education Netherlands)' against the education inspectorate and the universities of Maastricht and Twente, seems to “stand no reasonable chance”, according to Professor of Public Law, Aalt-Willem Heringa. The UM's Executive Board has also issued a written statement, saying that it has little doubt about a successful outcome. BON is protesting against the ‘anglicisation’ of higher education.

BON announced on Thursday that they would take legal action; the message was given extra force in the form of an interview with BON foreman Ad Verbrugge in the current affairs programme Nieuwsuur, that same night. The association feels that the two universities disrespect the Higher Education and Scientific Research Law (WHW), and that the inspectorate is failing in its supervisory task. After all, the WHW states that education should be “in Dutch”. There is, however, an escape route: another language can be used “should the specific nature, the setup or the quality of the education programme or the origin of the students make such necessary, all in accordance with a code of conduct set by the board of the institute.” The UM refers to this clause and has recently drawn up such a code of conduct.

But BON feels that the “largely English-language universities of Twente and Maastricht” have gone too far in their drive for internationalisation. In doing so, they are the “extreme examples of a development that is taking place throughout higher education,” the association's website states. Verbrugge emphasises in Nieuwsuur that the Dutch language proficiency of Dutch students is deteriorating, which is aggravated, according to him, by the fact that the majority of these students will end up working in the Netherlands. Moreover, universities and schools of higher professional education have a role in this area. The WHW actually says that higher education should also be geared towards “improving the ability to express oneself in Dutch”. BON says that this does not happen in English programmes.

The fact that the political debate about internationalisation and the anglicisation is a hot issue today, with a recent policy document by VSNU and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, and an education minister who intends to present a memo on internationalisation before the summer, is not something that convinced BON to postpone the lawsuit.  Verbrugge and his organisation feel that the discussion has been dragging on for too long already and that it is now time for action.

Still, according to professor Heringa, it is exactly this point that weakens the case. Making reservations, as he has not read the contents of the summons yet (BON had not responded to Observant’s request, made on Friday afternoon, 18 May, to submit a copy), Heringa points out that as the government is giving full attention to the matter, this will not be a case in which a summary proceedings judge “will want to interfere in detail”. In addition, he says, it appears that the text of this law on the official language in higher education has been cause for discord for years: this is another reason why summary proceedings are not the most suitable route to take. Lastly, without wanting to be exhaustive, Heringa lists a number of programmes at the UM that seamlessly meet the exception criterion (for using another language than Dutch) stated in the law, such as European Studies, the European Law School, International Business and University College. His conclusion: “I believe that the case stands no reasonable chance of being successful.”