Column: Malone


TU Delft is fortunate to be such a great university that it attracts students from all over the world. Its student body diversity can enrich the overall TU experience, both inside and outside the classroom, and for international and Dutch students alike. Unfortunately, the use of language within the university still prohibits international students from being their best, while also alienating them from Dutch students, which in turn hurts everybody.

Despite English being the official language of all university MSc programs, Dutch is still used in many areas. In some courses, lecture slides are presented in Dutch, and course materials or case studies are handed out in Dutch. And sometimes Dutch is an official language for no apparent reason. The most egregious example of this is International Research Projects (IRP), a foundation affiliated with TU Delft and the Delft Centre for Entrepreneurship. IRP sends TU Delft MSc students to developing countries to conduct market research or feasibility studies for projects like eco-cities in China or offshore wind in Argentina.

So, IRP is a university-affiliated program that takes students from TU courses where English is the official language and sends them to countries where English and the local language are spoken.

But until it was recently pressured by the Delft International Student Society (Diss), IRP always made fluency in Dutch a requirement to participate. This is a bad, inexplicable policy for many reasons: firstly, Dutch students working outside the Netherlands are going to work in a language other than Dutch. Second, international students – particularly those from IRP project host countries who know the local language and culture – would be assets to IRP teams, even superior to Dutch students who don’t know the local language and customs. Third, IRP’s offensive ‘understand and reads Dutch’ criterion explicitly excludes virtually all TU Delft international students.

Diss recently addressed this issue, with IRP agreeing to put up an English-language website and drop the Dutch language requirement, but ‘understand and reads Dutch’ remains a selection criterion on IRP’s site today. Yet, inexplicably, competence in a host country’s local language is not listed as an IRP selection criterion, even though knowledge of Mandarin or Portuguese for example would be an asset when working in China or Brazil. In the interest of intellectual and academic integrity, all TU-affiliated groups should list all languages that could be beneficial, not just one (Dutch), to the exclusion of all others. To do otherwise is discriminatory and must cease, particularly among student organisations affiliated with TU Delft, as IRP is.

Groups like IRP must work to reach out to international students. In watching the discussions between Diss and IRP unfold, it became apparent that IRP didn’t see this as an issue, which is an attitude at the university that must change. Exclusionary policies directly and indirectly impede the ability of international students to perform: directly because they must spend extra time sifting through Dutch materials in order to complete assignments, and indirectly because it creates an atmosphere of exclusion. This exclusionary situation is bad for international students, and it’s bad for Dutch students, who are missing out on one of the best aspects of TU Delft: its vibrant and diverse international student body.