UM aiming for special position

UM aiming for special position

Internationalisation and language policy

21-06-2023 · News

MAASTRICHT. Will Maastricht University be assigned a special position when it comes to its English-language education? There is still a lot that is not clear, Maastricht University president Rianne Letschert concludes after the long-awaited debate between the permanent parliamentary committee and minister Dijkgraaf last Thursday. The subject of discussion was how the influx of foreign students can be steered in the right direction.

“How is The Hague going to deal with regions with shrinking economies? And with border regions? And with the so-called study programmes in sectors where there is a shortage? I didn’t hear anything about these things, but all those labels apply to us and are possibly reasons why we should be considered for a special position. Will that be clear before the summer?”

The president thinks that there are far too many unanswered questions. Because if UM is given that coveted special position, will it be able to continue with all the bachelor’s programmes in English? Is the language requirement – the minister wants all foreign students to take a course in Dutch outside the curriculum – also applicable to this institute? And if so, what level of Dutch are we talking about? Letschert assumes that such a compulsion will scare international students away and therefore be a disadvantage: for UM, but also in a broader sense. “You often see that someone who is good in science or technology subjects has less affinity with languages. It could result in our country becoming less attractive for this group. What does that mean for our innovation power? Or take students of International Business, who will almost all end up working in an international environment, such as chip manufacturer ASML, where the official language is English. Must every student, regardless of the programme, achieve the same level of Dutch or is variation possible? Think good and hard before you introduce such measures.”


Few answers as of now, Letschert feels. But the debate did create considerable confusion and unrest. A lot of people - on social media and in the newspapers such as Trouw, NRC and de Volkskrant – thought that minister Dijkgraaf (as was even confirmed by a spokesperson from the ministry afterwards) stated on Thursday that all bachelor’s programmes, to a large extent, would soon have to be in Dutch. A maximum of one third of the subjects in such a study programme would be permitted to be in another language. However, this concerned the definition of education in Dutch, study programmes that are completely in another language remain possible.


Something that is clear, is that there will be a ‘test for education in another language’ for new and existing programmes. The important question here is, said the minister: “Can we justify using community money to fund study programmes in another language?” Letschert doesn’t have a problem with the Maastricht programmes being closely looked into “as soon as the criteria are clear, but I haven’t seen them yet. We have already carried out such an internal exercise. Take Psychology, for example: Our English track prepares students for an academic career; in that case the labour market perspective is in English. The study programme in Dutch is more geared towards clinical psychology. These graduates will largely end up on the Dutch labour market.”

One last question: let’s assume that Maastricht, as one of the few universities, is allowed to proceed with bachelor’s programmes in English. That could lead to an even greater influx of foreign students who can’t find a place elsewhere. Then UM will overflow, just like institutes in the west of the Netherlands. Letschert: “In that case, we can introduce an intake restriction for English tracks and should that not be sufficient, we can take emergency measures to halt the admission of students from outside Europe, outside the EER.” It is true that this group only makes up a small section of all foreign students. And these measures are not yet legally embedded either.


The president hopes that The Hague opts for tailor-made solutions. She has said it before: “Please, no uniformity. We are receiving many expressions of support from mayors in the region, from the provincial authorities, employers, employees, the campuses. The university is a powerful motor for innovation in the region, I hope The Hague will be susceptible to that.”





Internationalisation of universities

Lecture halls bursting at the seams, rooms shortages, the loss of Dutch as an academic language. The influx of foreign students that is excessive in some cities – especially in the west of the country – needs to be properly addressed, we have been hearing for some time. Both from the universities and in Parliament and from minister Dijkgraaf. He debated with the permanent parliamentary education committee about a solution last Thursday. Many controversial issues were discussed: the official language used in study programmes, the funding of universities, but also the Dutch tax payer who pays for the studies of foreign students. The discussion will continue, the minister is going to introduce a bill this summer.

Author: Riki Janssen

Illustration: Simone Golob

Tags: internationalisation,dutch,english,bachelor studies,minister dijkgraaf,president Rianne Letschert

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