Universities are against it

Deluge of reactions to proposed internationalisation legislation

Internationalisering: taal Foto: Shutterstock, illustratie DUB
Photo: Shutterstock. Illustration: DUB

The first version of the bill Internationalisering in Balans (Internationalisation in Equilibrium) is available online for a process called Internet consultation. Everybody can share their opinions on the draft bill, allowing the outgoing Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf, or his successor to 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), which thinks that the plan isn’t feasible. Where are they going to find teachers to provide Dutch language tuition to international students, for example? There is already a shortage of teachers going on. In their view, the government should not be interfering with the curricula of study programmes in the first place — and that includes language teaching.

UNL's comments about the government's unreliability and legal uncertainty are pretty scathing too. What constitutes an anderstalige (non-Dutch taught) degree programme, for instance? The cabinet is refraining from writing the definition into law, preferring to write it into a general control measure instead. Dutch universities fear that the minister can adapt this much too easily, leading to a lack of clarity for both students and programmes.

Besides, some programmes cannot go on without the international intake. “The existence of a number of small and unique study programmes is under threat if there is an obligation for them to be taught in Dutch”, warn Dutch universities. Hence their advice to the government: leave language policy to us.

Echoing the position of universities as a whole, the Utrecht Young Academy has also published a statement outlining issues that could arise in the short, medium and long term. In the short term, they mention a possible increase in work pressure, as programmes will have to adapt lectures and materials, as well as adjust the teaching staff if need be. In the medium term, international staff would be burdened by the obligation to learn Dutch within two years, which would "potentially impact their availability for teaching obligations" and put a strain on teams as a whole. And, in the long term, they worry about the image and position of Dutch academia in the international landscape. 

Universities of Applied Sciences
The Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) also identifies a number of drawbacks. The number of international students in their Bachelor’s programmes is barely increasing, yet those programmes would be affected by the new law as well. That doesn’t make any sense to them.

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 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 the curricula. 

The universities of applied sciences are also questioning the practicability of the plans: how can all students learn from the same material if international students first need to immerse themselves in the Dutch language and culture? They fear a major divergence in learning outcomes and 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 essential 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.”