No big demands

Dutch Parliament wants to know: How do you assess the language of instruction at your university?

Internationalisering: taal Foto: Shutterstock, illustratie DUB
Illustratie Shutterstock / DUB

The government monitors the quality of higher education programmes in the Netherlands through the accreditation body NVAO. Every six years, NVAO arranges for a panel of experts to visit the programmes with a set of questions about the curriculum, facilities, and teaching staff, among other matters. 

The language of instruction is also included in their questions. Programmes taught in languages other than Dutch have to explain to the panel why they have chosen that language (which, in most cases, is English) as the language of instruction over Dutch. Dijkgraaf announced earlier this year that the requirements for approval would be much stricter in the future.

In a written consultation, centre-right party VVD asked Dijkgraaf to explain how this would work in practice as well as what changes he would like to see in the process because he has prepared a bill aimed at enhancing control over internationalisation and the choice of language of instruction. Similar questions were also posed by BBB, a right-wing party representing farmers. 

Never rejected
The questions are not particularly odd, given that NVAO never goes so far as to reject a study programme. In 2022, 234 programmes were assessed. Only four of them were criticised and told to make improvements in the foreseeable future. However, the language of instruction is never really a problem.

The previous House of Representatives supported a motion by MP Pieter Omtzigt calling for clarity on the current language requirements. Dijkgraaf is now trying to address this point, maintaining to the House of Representatives that NVAO is clarifying the rules and paying more attention to the language of instruction.

Programmes taught in languages other than Dutch must justify their choice of language in the light of the regional, national and international professional field or discipline, Dijkgraaf explained. But there are no strict requirements. A “well-founded, substantive dialogue” between the study programme and the expert panel is sufficient for approval to be given.

At the same time, programmes that fall short when it comes to providing firm substantiation need not fear having to close their doors immediately. If they get a below-par rating on this aspect, that “does not necessarily result in a loss or refusal of accreditation”, Dijkgraaf writes.

What would change under the "internationalisation in balance" bill? "We still have to work that out" was Dijkgraaf’s short answer. In any case, a different committee will be tasked with assessing the language of instruction. Greater emphasis will be placed on efficiency over quality.

It remains to be seen how language policy in higher education will be shaped in the future. One thing is certain: the anglicisation of study programmes remains a sensitive issue in the new House of Representatives. A sizeable majority would like to make Bachelor’s programmes Dutch-taught again, with the possible exception of tech and engineering programmes.