While Van Engelshoven had already stated earlier that using English as a language of instruction must have added value and not be used exclusively as a tool to recruit international students, her words during a debate in the Lower House had never sounded quite so emphatic.

“In the funding methodology there are significant incentives for retaining as many students as possible, because then your piece of the pie remains the same,” she said to Members of Parliament. This is the mechanism she wants to remove, because “we can all sense that it’s something that’s not healthy.”


Her words were well-received in the Lower House. Similarly, her explanation of stricter supervision of using English in higher education was something Members of Parliament could appreciate: in the process assessing the quality of education (accreditation) taking place every six years, from now on, degree programmes using English will have to explain their choice of the language of instruction.

Only the VVD was briefly hesitant about this measure. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game, said MP Judith Tielen. The accreditation process is already very labour intensive and must not be made unworkable.

However, opposition party SP backed up the Minister. “I’m not used to defending the Minister’s policy,” said MP Futselaar, “but if you can’t substantiate relatively easily why your degree programme is in English, you need to take a good look at what you’re doing. And I’m saying this as someone who has had to do accreditations.” Futselaar is a former university of applied sciences lecturer.


The Minister additionally said that she would speed up the pace of modernising the section of law governing language of instruction in higher education. The intention is for the legislative amendment to come into force on 1 March 2020.

Other parties, including the CDA, want to know more details about her plans. “There is no wall around the Netherlands and we want to keep it that way,” said MP Harry van der Molen, “but introducing internationalisation for reasons of convenience needs to be curtailed.” As far as he is concerned, the Anglicisation of higher education has already gone beyond acceptable limits.

The Minister was able to reassure him. She pledged that the Dutch language will remain the guiding principle in her legislative proposal. This is because she wants to preserve Dutch as a language used in education and academia. If a degree programme still wants to make the transition to English, then the participation in decision-making bodies will play a role in this decision.

Language policy

At the same time, the Inspectorate of Education is conducting a study this year into language policy in higher education. Van Engelshoven promised that if “any excesses” are identified, the inspectors will take action, even though she didn’t define exactly what might comprise an excess. In the fall, the Lower House will be presented with the findings of the study and the parliamentary groups will presumably revisit the issue.