Senate picks apart law against anglicisation of higher education

20-01-2021

THE NETHERLANDS. Are we creating a paper tiger? And why should the government even get involved in such an issue? The Dutch Senate has voiced serious reservations about a new law that is intended to stop the anglicisation of higher education in the Netherlands.

Drafting the proposed legislation on Language & Accessibility was indeed a balancing act, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven admitted. Among other things, the text states that degree programmes may only be taught in English if this gives them ‘added value’.

The written questions submitted to the government by senators from the coalition parties VVD, CDA and D66, and their opposition colleagues from GroenLinks and PvdA suggest that this wording has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Red tape

VVD is afraid that the law will lead to “mountains of red tape”. How would the government assess the added value of English-taught classes in practice? Could the Minister perhaps provide some “concrete examples” by referring to existing degree programmes? And wouldn’t all the time and money invested in such assessments be better spent on education itself?

While CDA is also concerned that the law might be a “paper tiger”, the party does support the underlying principles and believes the law could work if applied “strictly and consistently”. That said, they are not yet convinced that the law would be enforced with the necessary discipline.

The law was prompted by growing criticism of the internationalisation and anglicisation of Dutch education, particularly at universities. Critics wondered what all these foreign students were doing here. Will they stay in the Netherlands after they graduate, or will they take their talents and newly acquired skills back home with them? And are Dutch students still learning to master their own language at an academic level?

Dutch language classes

Responding to these criticisms, the proposed legislation states that English-taught programmes are required to promote their students’ communication skills in Dutch. But on this point too, the senators have questions.

GroenLinks, for instance, wants to know how that would work. Will there be mandatory language classes and exams? Would those be taught outside the normal curriculum? And how would this affect the workload of students and staff?

PvdA has an even more fundamental question: does this mean that the government intends to change the final attainment levels of degree programmes? If so, what would be the justification? And if not, how are the programmes supposed to interpret the new law?

International business

VVD sees no reason whatsoever for foreign students to learn Dutch. The party does not understand why a student enrolled in an English-taught programme in the Netherlands should have to be proficient in the Dutch language. “After all, many people who are employed in the Netherlands, especially in international business, do not speak Dutch. But they are still well embedded in our society.”

The Minister will answer all the senators’ questions within the next few weeks. However, since the Dutch government stepped down last week, she remains in office only in a caretaker capacity. That means that, if the current proposal is labelled ‘controversial’, it might end up on the desk of her successor after the general election in March.

If this happens, the law would be delayed by at least a year. Alternatively, the proposal could be withdrawn altogether and the next minister could draft their own proposal instead.

HOP, Bas Belleman

Translation: Taalcentrum-VU