Programmes will have to switch to Dutch if they can't justify why they teach in English

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Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ingrid Van Engelshoven proposed this idea as part of an expansion of the legislation concerning the language of instruction in higher education. The proposal has not yet been put before the Dutch House of Representatives: it is online for consultation, which means anybody may comment about it.

According to the proposal, the Inspectorate of Education and the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) would be responsible for supervising programmes taught in English, carrying out reviews and assessments once every six years. During these assessments, the programmes would need to justify why they chose to teach in a certain language.

Change of language
What happens if their explanation is not considered good enough? In that case, they would need to switch back to Dutch. The NVAO may decide to give the programme a second chance if it can demonstrate the need and usefulness of its chosen language of instruction within a two year-period. The cabinet has included this option in order to protect foreign students. After all, if their programme unexpectedly switched to Dutch, they wouldn't be able to graduate.

As far as the minister is concerned, however, this ‘second chance’ option would only be offered to programmes whose explanation is considered ‘just below satisfactory’ or in cases where it is ‘realistic and feasible’ that the programme demonstrates the added value of teaching in English within the two-year timeframe.

New English-taught programmes only possible with approval
Van Engelshoven also wants to change things for brand new programmes. These should not be taught in English unless they can justify that language choice. According to the proposal, the NVAO would be able to withdraw its permission if inspectors conclude that a programme no longer meets the requirements for a ‘foreign-language’ programme. If that happens, the programme will either need to switch to Dutch or close its doors entirely.

The number of programmes in which English is the language of instruction has been increasing rapidly in the Netherlands, particularly at universities. Only 14 percent of all university Master's programmes are taught in Dutch. Ten percent are taught partly in English and partly in Dutch, while over three-quarters are taught entirely in English.

Critics believe that programmes provide education in foreign languages mainly in order to attract international students, who pay a higher tuition fee. Sometimes they do so even though the decision can undermine the quality of the education provided. But supporters maintain that they simply want to prepare students for a globalised world.

The government's online consultation phase will continue until December 24.