Why English should be the official language of the UU Council

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Currently, in University Council meetings, Dutch students may speak Dutch and international students may speak English. An interpreter helps the latter if need be, and they're also offered a Dutch course. Does that work in practice? To Andreia Fernandes Duque, one of the first international students to occupy a seat in the Council, it doesn't. In this piece, she explains why.

Read in Dutch

When I was elected for the University Council, I knew that I was going to be one of the two first international students and also part of a pilot for Luistertaal – a concept in which speakers use different languages, but have sufficient receptive skills to understand each other properly. In other words, internationals speak English and Dutch native speakers speak Dutch.

Despite the very low Dutch proficiency I had in July 2020, I always thought I would rapidly catch up and grasp much of the content in the discussions. However, as soon as the council year started, I realised how much I could understand: nothing.

In my very first SHO committee meeting, I told everyone that I couldn’t understand anything and asked them to switch to English, but the answer was “we were told we would use Luistertaal this year, so we are not doing that”. I was… caught by surprise. I needed an interpreter as soon as possible, because my Dutch proficiency wouldn’t grow exponentially overnight.

Interpreter problem solved, everything seemed to be working: I was using software DeepL to translate my emails, memorandums and letters do be discussed in the council meetings, WhatsApp and Slack messages (I didn’t want to miss out on anything!). But, after a couple of weeks, I became really demotivated and lacking the emotional endurance that this position requires.

When the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 was being discussed, I realised that other University Councils in the Netherlands have already switched from Dutch to English when non-Dutch Council members had been elected, including Erasmus, Wageningen, and Tilburg University. If other University Councils in the Netherlands have been holding discussions in English, as well as officially translating memorandums, letters and minutes, why wouldn’t our university do the same? Therefore, I wrote a memorandum about the language policy of the University Council, where I proposed the following three alterations, based on four main points.

Utrecht University’s ambitions
In the Strategic Plan 2020-2025, it is stated that “Utrecht University is a broad, Dutch and international University” and that “we aim at an environment that is increasingly inclusive and international”. There is a Dean for Inclusivity and Diversity and a lot of people working for more inclusive policies and a better internationalisation strategy. Why? Because the UU is diverse, but not inclusive.

Shouldn’t the University Council showcase the University’s strategy?
Two international students took a seat in the Council for the first time this year, but taking an active role in the Council is very different from simply being in the Council. Despite the intensive Dutch course, the interpreter and the official translation of the documents, the University Council is not inclusive and does not meet UU’s aspirations to become more international. As I said in my recent interview with DUB, integration should come both ways and, at the moment, lingua receptiva is only demanding a lot of effort from the international members, who have no other choice but to clearly argue and express their views in English. Further, read a summary of Council’s meetings and prove their points anyways. How could this be a middle ground solution?

Why is Luistertaal not working?
For a non-Dutch speaking council member, a one-year mandate is not enough to reach the proficiency in listening and reading in Dutch that is required to apply Luistertaal. Unless an international Council member has a Dutch proficiency equivalent to B2/C1, Luistertaal is simply not feasible. Therefore, if the language policy doesn’t change, the Utrecht University Council should make very clear that non-Dutch speaking students and staff with a Dutch proficiency below B2/C1 shall not put themselves forward as candidates to the University Council.

Transition period
Finally, we are global. Almost 10 percent of the students and 30 percent of staff are international, which means that one out of five members of the UU community who could possibly run for a seat in the University Council will probably shrink back when faced with the language barrier, which was non-existing when they applied for a study programme or a job position at the University. So, should we expect international students to speak Dutch when applying for an advisory body position?

As an international student myself, I feel that the current multilingual policy of the University Council is simply putting up with non-Dutch speaking members’ existence, making it so unpleasant that the inclusivity of international students and staff won’t be a problem anymore because they will simply give up on participation or any type of further integration in the community.

Related: Why English Should Not Be The Only Official Language of the UU Council

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