Tuesday 21 March 2023

English takes over at Dutch universities, just 40% of courses still in Dutch

Not all lecturers are fluent in English. Photo: Depositphotos.com

Not all lecturers are fluent in English. Photo: Depositphotos.com

More than half of Dutch university courses are taught entirely in English, the Volkskrant said on Friday.

The paper looked at 1,632 different degree courses at the country’s 13 universities and found 60% are now in English. When it comes to master’s degrees, just 30% are taught in Dutch and three universities only offer master’s degrees in English.

Universities introduce English-language degrees to compete with other academic institutions and to reflect the internationalisation of education in general, the Volkskrant said. English courses also act as a draw to foreign students.

‘We are convinced that this will lead to better education and more opportunities for students in the international jobs market,’ Bastiaan Verweij of the Dutch university association VSNU told the paper. ‘Offering English education is part of this.’


Nevertheless, the shift is not without its critics among both students and academics. In particular, students complain about the poor quality of the English used by lecturers.

At the end of last year, almost 60% of students in a poll by students union LSVB said they had been confronted with incomprehensible lecturers.

Latin professor Piet Gerbrandy told the paper that his lectures lose subtlety and humour when given in English and that this applies to most non-native speakers. ‘By giving English such a prominent role at university, you remove the academic subtlety, the passion and the inspiration. And that is a shame.’

Nor are students, whether Dutch or foreign, always good enough at English to write and express themselves properly and without mistakes, he said.



In a column in the Volkskrant earlier this month, Martin Sommer pointed out that in Leiden, all faculty meetings are held in English, even when there are only Dutch people present.

Campaigners for Dutch higher education are giving up hope because the bottom line is all about money, he said. Fewer Dutch students are going to university and that means attracting more foreigners with English courses, or face cuts.

Education minister Jet Bussemaker is also a supporter of English language degrees but not if the only aim is to bring in more foreign students. ‘I do not accept the fact that universities give lessons in English purely for commercial reasons,’ she told the paper. ‘The last word has not been said on this.’

The number of foreign students studying in the Netherlands rose by 20% to some 36,000 at the start of the last academic year. Most come from Germany, China, Italy, Greece and Britain.

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