30 June 2017 • HOP, by Hein Cuppen
Court case against increasing use of English in higher education
The association Beter Onderwijs Nederland (Better Education Netherlands, or BON) wants to launch legal proceedings to halt the increasing use of English in higher education. According to BON, this is blazing a trail of destruction through higher education and is also against the law.
In an op-ed in de Volkskrant, Felix Huygen, a BON board member, announced an intention to launch legal proceedings. BON will invoke Article 7.2 of the Dutch Higher Education and Research Act which states that teaching and exams must be conducted in Dutch unless a guest lecturer from another country is involved or ‘if the specific nature, structure or quality of the teaching or the origin of the students necessitates this’.
A decline in quality
Huygen joins a long line of critics who fear a decline in the quality of higher education. Lecturers and students find it harder to express themselves in English than in their native language; as a result, many nuances of meaning are lost.
It is estimated that 60% of the degree programmes at universities are taught completely in English and that English is also making inroads at universities of applied sciences. Financial motives also play a role: by offering degree programmes taught in English, some institutions hope to attract more international students.
Minister Bussemaker is concerned. Last year, she announced that she wanted to have ‘a serious discussion’ with universities and universities of applied sciences that offer degree programmes taught in English ‘simply’ to attract international students. ‘If the use of English results in losing nuances of meaning and details related to the subject matter, we should stop using it,’ she said in the Lower House. Whether these discussions ever took place is not known.
Guided by quality or finances?
The Dutch National Students’ Association (ISO) is interested in the result of a possible court case. According to ISO chairperson Rhea van der Dong, it is an illusion to think that all teaching can suddenly be conducted in English and that its quality will automatically be guaranteed. She worries that the institutions are not being guided by standards of quality but by their finances: ‘A student from Beijing brings in more money than a student from Bunschoten.’
BON started circulating a petition against the increasing use of English which has now been signed by more than two hundred people.