Dutch universities defend growth of English courses

The Netherlands’ university association says courses taught in English ‘improve the quality of teaching’

September 3, 2016
Woman sitting in giant yellow clog
Source: Alamy

The Netherlands’ university association has defended the growth of English-language courses at Dutch institutions, claiming that it will “enhance the quality of education” and boost the country’s “innovative strength and competitiveness”.

Figures revealed by Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant last month found that 60 per cent of courses at Dutch universities are taught in English, and this increases to 70 per cent when only master’s degrees are counted. The analysis was based on 1,632 degree courses at 13 of the country’s research-intensive universities.

The growth of English-language courses came under fire from some academics; one scholar claimed that lectures delivered in English “lose subtlety and humour” and Dutch students’ English-language skills are not always strong enough to “write and express themselves properly and without mistakes”.

A poll by Dutch students’ union LSVb last year also found that 60 per cent of students were confronted with incomprehensible lecturers owing to the rise of teaching in English.

But Bastiaan Verweij, a spokesman at the Netherlands’ Association of Universities (VSNU), which represents the interests of the country’s 14 research universities, told Times Higher Education that the elements that make up an international classroom include “a good mix of students from home and abroad and an approach to content that integrates the students’ cultural backgrounds into the teaching”.

He said the organisation is “convinced that the presence of international students produces a more ambitious study culture, which acts as a major impetus for improving the quality of teaching”.

“That’s one reason why 60 per cent of university courses in the Netherlands are now taught in English. The international study programmes will in turn enhance the quality of education itself,” he said.

“Of course, it is important to continuously work on the improvement of English teaching skills.”

He said that the Dutch binary system of higher education, with its distinction between research-oriented universiteiten and hogescholen – universities for professional education – means that the country is “well placed to respond to worldwide developments” – but only if it has an “increasingly broad pool of highly educated people with international skills”. The Volkskrant analysis did not include figures on the number of courses in English at hogescholen.

“Dutch knowledge institutions view it as their express mandate to provide top-quality teaching, research and valorisation. Today, this can only be achieved by operating on an international scale,” he said.

“Internationalisation is an essential step for students on the international job market and essential if the Netherlands is to continue to develop as a knowledge economy and boost its innovative strength and competitiveness.”

Robert Tijssen, chair of science and innovation studies at Leiden University, said the growth of English-language courses is an “almost inevitable impact of internationalisation processes” throughout the higher education sector and although “quality issues will emerge” these will be “resolved within a few years”.

“I expect more European countries will be going in this direction, especially the smaller nations with open societies and service-intensive, international trade-oriented economies; their university graduates will benefit most from enjoying dual-language higher education,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related universities

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate