As a Dutch student, I have my doubts about the need to adopt English as a lingua franca in higher education. And I am not alone: last year, 180 professors, writers and other prominent intellectuals published a manifesto in de Volkskrant, arguing among other things that Dutch remains the key language of communication within most professional groups. So what is the added value of adopting English?
English-language degree programmes draw a lot of international students – which further reduces the institution’s budget per student, according to the manifesto, and ultimately affects the academic quality of the provided education. What’s more: after graduation, only a small share of these international students (approximately 20 percent) stay on in the Netherlands for longer than five years, according to research performed by Nuffic The Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education. In the majority of cases, the Dutch economy doesn’t actually benefit from their presence, in other words.
Observing the on-going Anglicisation at my university, it occasionally seems as if the main focus isn’t providing the best education, but accommodating the Executive Board’s PR machine, which is hell-bent on filling our lecture halls with a chorus of English. But what’s the added value of an English-language subject in the first year of the Law bachelor programme that forces Dutch students to debate each other in English? Many students find the dense legal jargon perplexing enough in their mother tongue. And as professionals, they’ll actually be expected to argue, write and analyse in that same language. So what’s the point of arguing in English?
Why does an introductory programme for prospective students include so many unnecessary English items when everyone attending speaks Dutch? And in the Public Administration programme, why is Statistics taught in English – a subject that for many Dutch students is confounding enough as it is when explained in their own language?
Examples like this raise the question why English is repeatedly preferred over Dutch. While the university’s reasons remain obscure, it is easy to assume that teaching subjects in English is far more attractive from a financial perspective. And in this case, the students’ interests clearly play second fiddle.
EUR’s international students – who generally have a very poor command of Dutch – have given considerable impetus to the advance of English in the university’s halls and corridors. Including at the Erasmus Pavilion. Nevertheless, I would like to be addressed in Dutch there, too – on the principle that we need to cherish the Dutch language. In this age of progressive individualisation, Dutch is one of the few things that still connect us, and it is an essential part of Dutch culture. It forms part of our identity.
The steady advance of English in Dutch higher education seems to be an irreversible phenomenon. Still, it shouldn’t be at the expense of Dutch students and of the Dutch language. When it comes to Anglicisation, I believe that the lady and gentlemen of EUR’s Executive Board should be asking the students a different question: “Kan ik je helpen?”. This way, we can ensure Dutch retains a position of prominence at our university.