‘Knowledge transfer is a lot harder when students and lecturers don’t master the national language’

‘Knowledge transfer is a lot harder when students and lecturers don’t master the national language’

The Dutch government wants to curb anglicization of universities. According to Humanities Dean Boudewijn Haverkort, government interference in educational institutions goes too far with this. Felix Huygen, board member of Beter Onderwijs Nederland, sees it quite differently. ‘The government is trying to keep frenzied growth within limits.’

Beeld: Pixabay

It was with great interest that I read the interview with prof. Boudewijn Haverkort in Univers.

I noticed that Haverkort portrays Switzerland as a shining example for the Netherlands in terms of internationalization. I wholeheartedly agree, but for precisely the opposite reason: the universities of Lausanne and Zurich do not offer fully English-taught Bachelor’s programs. Students from abroad are expected to be proficient in one of the country’s languages before starting such a program, in Lausanne French, and in Zurich German.

So Minister Dijkgraaf’s proposal that two-thirds of every Bachelor’s degree should be taught in Dutch (which, unfortunately, will also leave room for exceptions) seems likely to become a lot more flexible than existing practice in Switzerland.

31.4 percent of Swiss students come from abroad—in the Netherlands, 40 percent of freshmen do. It was also revealed earlier this year that universities in Switzerland have plans to reduce the number of international students, due to excessive pressures on the budget. All this seems hardly compatible with Haverkort’s claim that the Swiss are more welcoming to international students than the Dutch.

Finally, Haverkort’s view that the Dutch government interferes too much in the internal affairs of the university. I would counter that: the Dutch government largely funds Dutch universities. The item ‘scientific education’ in the national budget increased from 4.2 billion euros in 2015 to 6.7 billion euros in 2022; I know of no other item that also increased by more than 60 percent in the same period.

Surely, Haverkort can hardly be of the opinion that the government should just keep transferring more and more community money to universities without any conditions. Especially in times of rising interest rates and a mild recession (but otherwise, too), it seems reasonable to me that the government should look at methods to keep this frenzied growth somewhat contained—also because the growth in student numbers has simultaneously led to sharply increasing lecturers’ workload, growing room shortages, and more large-scale education.

In addition, Article 1.3 of the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) states that universities, in exchange for government funding, are expected to ‘impart knowledge for the benefit of society,’ and that task is made considerably more difficult if a large proportion of students and lecturers do not master the national language (and if the rest, who do speak Dutch, do not learn to master it at an academic level).

Because individual programs and institutions have, for years, not taken their collective responsibility in this area but have reasoned from their own interests and have continued to focus only on more growth and large scale operations, and umbrella organization Universities of the Netherlands likewise, the government is forced to intervene, even now that it concerns a Minister from the most internationally oriented party.

While I understand that people can disagree with the measures, I don’t really understand what could be controversial about the government’s right to intervene on this issue. We live in a democracy, and the government is supposed to defend the public interest when publicly funded smaller parties fail to do so.

Felix Huygen is a board member of Beter Onderwijs Nederland (Better Education Netherlands)

Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel

Bekijk meer recent nieuws

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief

Blijf op de hoogte. Meld je aan voor de nieuwsbrief van Univers.