The first version of the bill ‘Internationalisering in Balans’ (Internationalisation in Equilibrium) is available (in Dutch) online for a process called internet consultation. Everybody can give their opinion, allowing outgoing minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (or his successor) to already process any comments before the final proposed legislation goes to the House of Representatives.
In a nutshell, it boils down to the following: universities are receiving more opportunities to manage the intake of international students, but the government also wants to reevaluate the working language in Bachelor’s programmes. Moreover, international students are required to gain some knowledge of the Dutch language.
Universities have a number of issues with the current version of the proposal, according to the reaction of the umbrella association Universities of the Netherlands (UNL). They think that the plan isn’t feasible. Where, for example, are they going to find the teachers who will provide Dutch language tuition to international students? After all, there is already a shortage of teachers. The government should not be interfering with study programme curricula in the first place. And that includes language teaching.
The comments by Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) about the unreliable government and legal uncertainty are also pretty scathing. What is, for example, an ‘anderstalige’ (non-Dutch taught) degree programme? The cabinet does not want to write the definition into law, but into a general control measure. The universities fear that the minister can adapt this much too easily, leading to a lack of clarity for both study programmes and students.
Some study programmes cannot continue without the international intake. “The continued existence of a number of unique small study programmes is under threat if there is an obligation for them to be taught in Dutch”, warn the universities. Leave language policy to us, they advise.
Universities of applied sciences
The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) also sees fundamental drawbacks. The number of international students in Bachelor’s programmes at universities of applied sciences is barely increasing, and yet these study programmes would also be affected by the new regulations. That doesn’t make any sense, the association feels.
As such, the universities of applied sciences understand that international students must receive Dutch language tuition and that stricter rules are introduced for the language of tuition. Just like the universities, however, they are concerned that the government is intruding on their patch. In their view, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) is interfering too much with study programme curricula.
The universities of applied sciences are also questioning the practicability: how can all students learn the same material if international students first need to immerse themselves in the Dutch language and culture? They are fearful of a major divergence of learning outcomes and of unnecessary costs.
UNL and VH are interest groups. There have also been reactions from individuals. “This is a great load off my mind”, writes one of them. “I think it’s very important for my children to pursue the studies of their choice in Dutch. This is necessary to bring their language skills – in a broad sense – to the right level.”
One international student reacts indignantly, however, to the proposed legislation. “Discontinuing small programmes that cannot function without internationals and teaching Dutch to students who will, by and large, not have anything to do with the language will be an even greater burden on the system.” The student prefers to pay higher tuition fees to enable greater investments in education and housing.
The proposal offers “no solution whatsoever”, writes one anonymous Dutch graduate. “I have myself completed a primarily English-language Bachelor’s programme. The language allowed for the creation of an international learning environment in which both the course material and the diversity of students and lecturers gave me fresh insights that a predominantly Dutch-language study programme could not have offered.”
Lotte Jensen, a professor of Dutch Cultural and Literary History in Nijmegen and an outspoken critic of anglicisation, calls it a balanced proposal that provides an answer to a “broadly shared desire”. In her view, it is definitely practicable. “Certainly when you consider the pace at which study programmes have transferred to English. A change in the other direction is just as conceivable and practicable.”
HOP, Bas Belleman and Peer van Tetterode