UU staff to improve their English – for free, during working hours

All scientific employees should have an English proficiency of at least C1, the second highest level according to the Common European Framework of Reference. That’s the main point of a note written by the university board, which will be discussed in a University Board commission meeting on Thursday. The Executive Board assumes all teaching staff will have to deal with English-language education in one way or another by 2020.

Therefore, the university wants to use performance reviews as a moment to gain insight into the English proficiency of teachers and researchers. Language tests are available. If an employee’s English is sub-par, they can take academic courses for free. Certificates will be saved in the personnel files.

The offer for free training to get to C1 level is also open to teachers with a temporary contract, if the contract is for a period of more than two years. If other teachers without tenure want to (or have to) work on their English, the faculty or department will have to pay for the courses. The same goes for PhD candidates and PostDocs.

More attention will also be given to specific educational training for teachers who teach in English to students with varying backgrounds. This, however, will be done in the form of individual tracks leading to a basic or senior educational qualification (bko or sko).

International work environment
The board suggests a different plan for non-academic staff. The language proficiency an employee needs to have, will depend on their pay grade and on how international their immediate work environment is. For a faculty director, that will mean something different than for, say, a mechanic.

Non-academic employees will also have the opportunity to test their level of English, and can plan a ‘development track’ with their supervisors. According to the university board, Erasmus University in Rotterdam has had good experience with similar methods.

People who are new to the UU – be it academic staff or not – will also have to adhere to the language level demands. The desired level of English will be stated explicitly in vacancy descriptions starting this fall. New employees will have to prove their level of proficiency through either certificates or tests. If necessary, they will also have the opportunity to take part in the university’s language courses.

No increase in workload
Tests and courses will be available starting November 2017. The university boards says that ‘theoretically’ there’s enough money available to cover the costs for the next three years. The university and labor unions have agreed to use so-called ‘terms of employments funds’ for the project.

How much money it will cost will depend on the demand. A course will cost around 500 euros per person, according to the board. After 2020, the faculties and departments will have to pay for the courses themselves.

The university stresses that employees will need to be granted enough time to be able to work on improving their English. The new requirements should not lead to increased workload or pressure. Courses can be taken during working hours, while homework, as the word implies, will need to be done in employees’ own time.

Foreigners who want to learn Dutch
The note is a follow-up to the Utrecht University Language Policy report that came out early this year. Thinking ahead about increased internationalization and the many discussions about ‘Englifying’ the university, a commission led by professor emeritus Rob van der Vaart was asked to provide advice. Providing more services to help increase employees’ English proficiency was one of the recommendations made in the report.

The university aims to provide more clarity in the next few months about the upcoming steps, as they’re exploring options for both schooling and testing for students. They’re also looking at ways foreign students and employees can improve their Dutch – it’s possible an online course will be provided.

It’s expected that the university will have a new outline for the university’s Language Code of Conduct, in which the UU provides guidelines about the use of language(s) within the university. The current code dates back to 2004.