Multiple causes for 2016 sperm whale mass strandings, scientists say

An international investigation into the stranding of 30 sperm whales in the southern North Sea in 2016 - including seven in the Netherlands - has concluded that the event most probably occurred due to a combination of several complex environmental factors. Lead author Lonneke IJsseldijk of the faculty of veterinary medicine at Utrecht University said that human actions were unlikely to be involved. 'We found no evidence of man-made trauma,' IJsseldijk said in a press release. The whales were across five countries over a period of six weeks in early 2016, after entering the southern North Sea where the water becomes progressively shallower – a known global hotspot for sperm whale strandings. Teams of international scientists and experts from around Europe came together to investigate the event. In total tests on 27 animals, all  young males aged between 10 and 16 years old showed they had probably foraged for the last time in Norwegian waters, at least 1,300 kilometers away. The scientists found several infections but these were determined to be incidental. Nor was there any evidence the whales had hit a ship or become entangled in nets.  Nine whales had ingested plastic but this had not led to the starvation. The scientists were unable to determine why the whales had entered the southern North Sea, which has shallow waters, making it difficult for them to navigate effectively. In addition, their type of squid they eat is not found there. 'Once the whales entered the southern North Sea, they were unfortunately really up against it,' said IJsseldijk. 'As highly specialised deep-water feeders, their bio-sonar wouldn’t have been able to function effectively in this very shallow region, meaning that unless they found their way back out again, their stranding – in what is effectively an ‘acoustic dead zone’ for deep diving species – would have been inevitable.'   More >

Economics, management studies more popular

English language economics and business studies courses are proving a major draw at Dutch universities this academic year and two courses have already imposed a cap on student numbers, the Financieele Dagblad said on Monday. The University of Amsterdam expects to sign up 1,800 first-year students for its business and economics courses this year, compared with 840 in 2016. Of them, between 40% and 50% come from abroad, the UvA told the paper. 'Foreign students think it is cheap to study in the Amsterdam and the UvA has a good name,' spokesman Peter van Baalen told the FD. 'And of course, Amsterdam is a major draw.' In Groningen, the number of first year economics students is set to go up from 1,040 to 1,350 while in Maastricht, 400 first-year economics students will start in September. Rotterdam School of Management, which has 550 places on its international business administration course, has had 2,400 applications this year, of which 75% came from abroad. RSM has brought in a cap on student numbers and requires an average school leaving exam pass of at least seven out of 10. But only one in three Dutch school leavers achieves that grade. 'This is worrying,' said spokesman Adri Meijdam. 'If too few Dutch school leavers qualify for a course with a cap in numbers, they face being pushed out.'  More >

Dutch universities can teach in English

The universities of Maastricht and Twente can offer bachelor's degrees in psychology in English, according to a court ruling on Friday. A case had been brought by the lobby group Beter Onderwijs Nederland, claiming that teaching these degrees in English broke the higher education and research laws. But the court judgement said that this is not the case. The group had also argued that ‘Anglicising’ Dutch education and making English the first language of universities damaged students, and reduced the teaching quality. It claimed Dutch students would then be at a disadvantage as they would be competing with increasing numbers of foreign applications. Not the place But the court said that it was not its place to take a view on the truth of these claims, but only to rule on whether the two universities were complying with the law. This says, according the judgement, that ‘education and exams should in principle be conducted in Dutch’ but that this is not obligatory. It found that the psychology degrees of both universities met the required educational standards and noted that they chose to teach in English due to the international nature of the subject. Space for all However, education inspectors have started a national investigation into whether the higher education laws are being properly applied. According to the NOS broadcaster, 23% of bachelor's and 74% of master's degrees are taught wholly in English, and this year there were 75,000 international students. Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said last month in a debate over this issue, though, that ‘there is always space in higher education for every Dutch student’. Reader challenge: spot the spelling mistake in the NOS English test  More >

Slob in hospital with bacterial infection

Schools minister Arie Slob has been forced to miss the end of the parliamentary year after falling ill with a bacterial infection. The 56-year-old had been due to take part in a debate on Tuesday on the administrative debacle that has forced more than 350 students at two schools in Maastricht to resit their end-of-year exams. The Christian Union (CU) minister withdrew from the debate at the last minute after succumbing to what his spokesman described as a 'heavy flu'. But on Thursday education and culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven, who stood in for Slob in the debate, revealed he had been taken to the Isala hospital in Zwolle after the bacterial infection was discovered. A spokesman for the ChristenUnie said: 'We wish Arie the best of health and are praying that he recovers quickly.'  More >