English at university is fine, says minister, as long as standards don't suffer

The Dutch higher education system can continue to offer more courses and degrees in English, as long as it leads to an improvement in standards and that Dutch students are not forced out, education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said on Monday. In addition, it should be possible for universities and colleges to give priority to Dutch students, Engelshoven said in her long-awaited position paper on the higher education sector. There has been mounting concern in recent months about the surge in English at universities and last month they too published a document calling for action. The universities and hbo colleges called for the number of courses given in English to be capped in an attempt to contain the growing number of international students, who now account for around 10% of the student body. The institutions also said that matriculation and course fees for students from outside the European Union should be raised. Students from EU countries have the right to pay the equivalent fees to their Dutch counterparts, currently around €2,000. Benefits Van Engelshoven said that she wanted to encourage the use of English because it benefits Dutch science, the knowledge-based economy and students themselves. 'I support an open Dutch society in which we dare to look across boundaries,' she said. 'But I am not closing my eyes to the consequences of internationalisation and that is why I am going to ensure there is a place for every Dutch student.' Currently universities are only supposed to offer degrees in English if that is 'necessary', although the rules are widely flouted. A lobby group campaigning for better education in the Netherlands is actually taking Maastricht and Twente universities to court for offering too many degree courses in English without good reason to do so. The main points of the minister's plan: Limits to the number of student places on some English-language courses Better checks on the English skills of lecturers Higher fees for non EU students English courses must be linked to labour market demand Central registration of English courses Better coordination to ensure every degree subject is available in Dutch More effort to encourage Dutch students to study abroad Try to encourage more foreign students to stay in NL past graduation More research on financial impact of foreign students on education system National action plan on student housing with possible campaign against 'no internationals' policy Are you an international student or involved in university teaching. You can have your say in the comments section below.  More >

AI braindrain depletes Dutch universities

Universities are facing a severe shortage of artificial intelligence lecturers as PhDs opt for jobs outside academia or go abroad, the Financieele Dagblad reported on Monday. At the moment some 90% of AI graduates already find work outside academia and there are fears that a recruitment drive by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States will be powerful pull on the remaining 10%. ‘The MIT will try to get our best graduates,' Maarten de Rijke, director of the new Dutch national institute for artificial intelligence ICAI told the paper. ‘If that happens we won’t have anyone to teach a new generation of scientists.’ AI is a very popular choice among students but, the FD writes, there are too few people to teach them. The combined Amsterdam universities only have a total of 30 lecturers, for example. Some 700 students wanted to do an AI Master’s degree in Amsterdam this year but there were only 200 places. One way of solving the problem would be to up university salaries, De Rijke said. University lecturers earn half that of an AI specialist in industry while in the United States salaries can be five times as high. But, De Rijke says, it is not just better salaries that will persuade people to stay on at the universities. An environment which offers cooperation with talented colleagues, access to the best data and career perspectives is also a major draw. However, he warned, a big hurdle is the lack of affordable housing. Earlier this year European scientists warned that Europe is lagging behind in the global AI race, with China and the US as leading investors, the FD said.  More >

Teacher sick? School asks parents to help

A primary school in Hoorn in Noord Holland has asked parents to help out in class if teachers are off sick for more than a day. The Het Kompas school has written to parents to explain the unusual request, stating that the aim is to stop pupils being sent home if a teacher is absent. The shortage of teachers means it is difficult to plug all the holes in the teaching roster, hence the appeal to parents as a last resort. 'We are asking parents just to supervise a classroom, not to play teacher,' head teacher Jaap Muurling told NH Nieuws. The classrooms will be equipped with special educational games so that the children will continue to learn while at play. In Lelystad last week, one class was sent home for an entire week because there were no teachers to fill in for an absent colleague. Last month, two school organisations in Zaanstad warned they may have to cut down to a four-day week because of a shortage of teaching staff. The organisations, Agora and Zaan Primair, say personnel numbers have been cut to such an extent that they will have no cover if teachers fall ill during the autumn flu season.  More >

Amsterdam student refused entry to UK

Glasgow University Legal experts have denounced the decision to refuse an Amsterdam University student from Bosnia entry to the UK to attend an academic conference as 'irrational' and 'nonsensical'. Nadza Dzinalija, 21, travelled to Glasgow for the six-day conference organised by the university's psychology department, but immigration officials said they were 'not satisfied' she would leave even though she had a return flight booked for October 29. The Home Office raised concerns because her student visa was due to expire in December, The Independent reported. Dzinalija, who is on the first year of a two-year masters programme, applied in September for an extension to her visa, which was expected to be granted. She said: 'I was really surprised. I’ve applied for a lot of visas before and this is the first time I’ve had this experience. I’m bitterly disappointed that I can’t attend.' Immigration expert Jan Doerfel said the UK government's insinuation that the student would use an academic conference as a pretext to enter the UK illegally was 'unlawful' and 'deeply insulting to Nadza’s integrity'. He added it was a further blow to the UK's reputation for academic excellence as universities gear up for the challenge of attracting and maintaining top talent after the country leaves the European Union next March. 'It portrays a feeling of superiority and arrogance not only towards applicants’ actual life choices but also towards our European neighbours, as well as an insensitivity towards needs of academic institutions in this country which aim to keep the UK attractive and at the cutting edge of scientific research,' said Doerfel.  More >