Foreign staff members fear dismissal due to

Foreign staff members fear dismissal due to 'attack' from The Hague on internationalisation

Ask me Anything about: ‘Internationalisation and language at UM. What are we in for?’

07-02-2024 · News

MAASTRICHT. Remarkable: the first questions at an Ask Me Anything session about the threats from politicians in The Hague for the UM as an international university are from foreign staff members. Apparently, they are seriously worried: “Will there be dismissals?” Also remarkable: UM wants to recruit more Dutch students again.

That the shadow cast by criticism from the Hague on the internationalisation of higher education falls heavily over Maastricht University is no longer news. This was the reason for an Ask Me Anything session this week with the theme: ‘Internationalisation and language at UM. What are we in for?’ About 270 employees took part online. President Rianne Letschert summarised the issues again: the large influx of foreign students, the possible displacement of Dutch students, the shortage on the housing market, the Englishisation of education, and the loss of Dutch as an academic language, all of these are the subject of discussion. The political parties VVD, BBB, NSC and PVV who have tried to form a government (last Tuesday NSC quit), want to reduce migration of not only asylum seekers, but also foreign students and employees, and to have the Dutch language play an important role in education again.

Stormy weather

It is a debate that cannot be ignored: if those parties get what they want, UM is in for some stormy weather. But Letschert and her two assistants at the session, the deans Harald Merckelbach (Psychology and Neurosciences) and Christine Neuhold (Arts and Social Sciences), are not pessimistic. They refer to the major economic role of UM in the region. Because the very parties that are threatening the internationalisation of higher education are, at the same time, in favour of strengthening regions that are having a difficult time, said Letschert. UM has become an important economic driving force in Limburg. They reckon that damaging UM means damaging the region.

It is not that people are standing still in the meantime; the critical signals have been too strong for that. The universities must do something, UM must do something. Tomorrow, Thursday, the fourteen universities, UNL as a collective, will publish a series of proposals – on the ‘chances of staying’ for graduates, Dutch in the bachelor’s phase, student housing – which by the way does not need to be fulfilled by every institute in the same way.

Learn Dutch

They want to provide more facilities for foreign students to learn Dutch. For UM, this means not just the Social Dutch course, but also language courses tailored to their own field. The Language Centre, together with faculties, will look at what is needed. One of the objectives is to get more foreign graduates to find a job here and settle. That is what a rapidly ageing region like South Limburg needs, said the panel. Merckelbach pointed out that drastic government measures could have an adverse effect. In Denmark, the decision to substantially limit the number of study programmes in English was overturned after two years because the international graduates appeared to be indispensable for the Danish labour market.

More Dutch students

Furthermore, UM wants to recruit more Dutch students. Last September, two third of the first-year bachelor’s had a foreign nationality. The portion of Dutch students could grow, by (also) using Dutch during the open days and by making the website bilingual – which is in English at the moment. Letschert: “For pupils from pre-university education who visit an open day, the English language could constitute a higher threshold. Such pupils might think: I am not ready for this yet.” 

Does UM still want to grow, was a question from the online audience. Not in Maastricht, Letschert said decisively. “We only have ambitions to grow in Venlo and Heerlen, but even there, we have to constantly look at our capacity and the housing market.”

Back to the concerns of the international staff who fear that there will be dismissals if the critics in The Hague get their way. No, that is really not under discussion, was the reassuring answer. The panel does not expect a worst-case scenario in which all bachelor’s programmes will have to be run in Dutch.

Author: Riki Janssen

Photo: Shutterstock

Tags: ask me anything,english,dutch,language,internationalisation,the hague,government

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