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Englishizing of higher education: is it a good thing?

Iris Ausems
Written by Iris Ausems

Walking around the Roeterseilandcampus of the University of Amsterdam, you will definitely notice that there are a lot of international students at UvA. And that number is ever growing because UvA is planning on offering more and more educational programmes in English. It hasn’t been long since Communication Science at UvA has started an English track, and Communication Science is amongst many in a line of other programmes who switched to English as their lingua franca. In the last year however, there has been a lot more media attention for the fact that that change might not be entirely positive.

Not entirely positive?
The tumultuousness started around 2016 when a number of Dutch newspapers started looking into the subject. They made an assessment of the amount of study programs that were offered in English and found that that was quite a lot: 60 percent of all university studies in the Netherlands were offered in English. When it comes to Master’s degrees, that number is even higher: not even 30 percent of all Master’s degrees are offered in Dutch. Offering studies in English is in line with the language in use at most academic journals and the most competitive universities worldwide. So from the perspective of academic quality, it is a wise move to offer studies in English.

For students who have their pointers set on an international career, studying in English can be a great way to improve one’s English and to prove their English proficiency to a future employer. Besides, getting educated in an international environment is a great way to get to know more about other countries and cultures. Experiencing student life with fellow students from all over the world is an excellent way to learn how to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, which is also a great skill to have for people aspiring international careers. So for a lot of Dutch students, this change is definitely a good thing.

Dutch language
However, there is a group of Dutch students who aren’t happy with the Englishizing of Dutch higher education. Their criticism isn’t that the growth of programs offered in English should stop, it is to the fact that some programs aren’t even offered in Dutch anymore. That’s especially bad for students who aren’t good at English or who do not have the intention to work abroad. To not be able to study what you want to study in your home country in your home language has to be quite frustrating. Especially if the alternative is studying in a language in which you can’t express yourself as well as you normally would, which can take a toll on your grades.

According to some media, Dutch universities are offering more and more studies in English, because offering studies in English attracts international students from whom Dutch universities get a lot more money than they do from Dutch students. And then there are the language purists, who are already criticizing the current state of students’ Dutch language skills and therefore don’t think it’s a good idea to switch to English. Some of these people have been criticizing the use of more and more English in their day-to-day Dutch speaking and are afraid the Dutch language might even go extinct if the Englishizing continues. Extinction might be a bit dramatic, but the Englishizing of the Dutch language will definitely not improve the average person’s Dutch.

Own experience
An often heard critique is that teaching in English is also not necessarily in students’ best interest due to the fact that not all teachers are best suited to teach in English. A lot of professors’ English skills could use some polishing: I can vouch for that from personal experience. Not only can understanding these teachers be hard, sometimes the lack of English proficiency can be distracting or even irritating to students. One of my teachers would use the word ‘like’ for like three like times in like one sentence, for instance. So obviously, teachers with a severe lack in English skills are not in any student’s best interest. The fast growth of studies offered in English, should at least come with a lot of language training for professors.

Measures
Some have asked for a temporary stop of the Englishizing of higher education. The government wants to leave it up to the universities, but different organizations concerned with the quality of higher education have expressed their doubts about that. The new Dutch government has expressed to want to keep an eye on a number of things concerning Englishizing of higher education. According to them it needs to have extra value for a study program to be offered in English, the quality of the English program needs to be guaranteed and the current number of studies offered in Dutch can’t go down too much. What do you think? Do critics of the Englishizing of Dutch higher education have a point or should there be more studies in English, even if it’s at the cost of Dutch offered programs? And do you have any personal stories about teachers with horrible English skills?

Cover: OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay / Final editor: Charlotte Rombach

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About the author

Iris Ausems

Iris Ausems

Iris (22) is a Communications Science student with a preference for political communications and a special interest in media, politics, culture and society. Besides studying and writing, she likes to explore the cultural and culinary in her home country as well as abroad. A big plus about doing that abroad is that she can work on her tan, as she thinks there is no such thing as enough of a tan!