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Why the Netherlands wants to cut English in its universities

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Higher education institutions are deeply worried about the new idea of the country’s Ministry of Education

Even after the exit of Great Britain from the European Union, many of the people who looked to the Island to complete a prestigious higher education, turned their heads to another country – the Netherlands.

Dutch universities enjoy a very good reputation, and they also offer a large number of courses in the increasingly universal English language for the global world.

Thus, at one point the flow of European (and not only) candidate students was redirected to Amsterdam, Leiden, Utrecht, Tilburg, Eindhoven and Göringen. Now, however, the Dutch government wants to put an end to this and severely limit the teaching of English in the country’s universities.

Dutch Education Minister Robert Dijkgraaf plans to limit the percentage of hours universities teach in foreign languages, arguing that the current situation has overburdened the country’s higher education institutions and could lead to a decline in quality of education.

For 2022 alone, the country has welcomed over 115,000 international students, which represents about 35% of the total number of all students studying in higher education institutions there. The tendency is for their share to grow over the last decade.

The desire of the authorities is to reduce the teaching of foreign languages in the country to about 1/3 of the courses offered in the universities.

This restriction comes after last December the Ministry of Education asked higher education institutions to stop actively recruiting foreign students. The minister motivated the decision with the fact that the internationalization of Dutch education leads to an overload of the teaching staff and a lack of accommodation for students.

At the moment, there is still no clear plan on how the new changes will happen with the teaching of a foreign language, and according to the spokesperson of the line ministry, the idea in this case is not so much directed against foreign students as it aims to minimize the negative consequences on the quality of the education offered.

“The current growth will lead to overcrowded lecture halls, overburdening teachers, a lack of student accommodation and reduced access to curricula,” the department said in a statement to Euronews.

The Netherlands has always been famous for its good higher education institutions, attracting students from all over the world.

Therefore, they are of the opinion that the reduction of courses in English will help to restore the balance in the system, so that the leading international position of the Dutch universities is not threatened.

Minister Dijkgraaf, for his part, is currently betting on a serious reduction of foreign languages at the expense of stimulating Dutch-language programs.

One idea is to cut English-language programs entirely to leave more in the local language. The other is that only some courses remain in English, not entire programs.

In both options, it is possible to make exceptions for some specialties where there is a priority need to attract foreign personnel. However, experts comment that Dijkgraaf’s new plans contradict the entire philosophy of Dutch higher education in recent years.

According to Nuffic, the Dutch organization for internationalization in education, in the Netherlands a total of 28% of bachelor’s and 77% of master’s programs are taught entirely in English.

These figures show that it is no wonder that universities are in a tight spot right now. This is fully true of the Eindhoven University of Technology, which teaches all of its undergraduate and graduate programs in English.

“There is a lot of tension about exactly what these new measures will include in detail. For us, this is a problem because for specific courses such as artificial intelligence or electrical engineering, we do not find enough professors who can teach in Dutch,” explains Robert -Jan Smits from the Graduate School Management.

According to him, the Netherlands has always had the reputation of being an open, tolerant and liberal country, and all its success historically is based on these principles.

The University of Eindhoven is not the only one to raise its voice against the proposal to reduce the English language in universities.

“This policy will be very damaging to the Dutch economy. It will have a negative impact on innovation and growth. The Dutch have always emphasized how important it is to maintain a ‘knowledge economy’, but now I see that this is under threat as talent can to leave us,” explains Associate Professor of Economics David Schindler from Tilburg University.

“There is no doubt that international students are paying more than they are worth. They make up a significant proportion of all students and keep the doors of many universities open. Without them, entire disciplines will shrink dramatically and potentially even collapse when this funding disappears “, he adds.

According to the latest study by the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, foreign students contribute up to €17,000 to the Dutch economy for a student from the European Union and up to €96,300 for non-EU students.

The Ministry of Education also does not want to lose all their foreign students – on the contrary. However, according to them, it is important to motivate these students to learn the Dutch language so that they can then realize themselves better in the labor market.

According to Smits of the Eindhoven University of Technology, this is not really such a factor. According to him, 65% of the graduates of the educational institution stay in the Netherlands, although the programs at the university are only in English.

He is of the opinion that the changes will actually have the opposite effect – students will simply no longer consider the Netherlands as an option for their higher education.

Smits sees political overtones in the decision to cut English courses.

“There is a big debate in parliament about the influx of migrants. There is a nationalist movement all over Europe. Debates are starting to happen even in the academic system. Populist parties are starting to ask why we are going to fund the education of foreigners, better to use the money for our own people,” he says.

For him, this is the bigger problem – this rhetoric of extreme nationalism is becoming a trend that is affecting even the academic system.

Photo by BBFotoj: https://www.pexels.com/photo/grayscale-photo-of-concrete-buildings-near-the-river-12297499/

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