[lg policy] Language usage in the Netherlands is a quality issue

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jun 14 11:01:08 EDT 2018

 Language usage in the Netherlands is a quality issue

Concerns about whether internationalisation and English usage has gone too
far should be addressed from the perspective of quality assurance,
says Michèle Wera
June 14, 2018

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   - By Michèle Wera

[image: A water level gauge, Netherlands]
Source: iStock
Water level staff gauge in ditch in polder Schokland, Noordoostpolder,
Flevoland, Netherlands

For years, the Dutch government has stimulated the exchange of
international staff and students and supported universities’ efforts to
broaden their scope. This has put higher education in the Netherlands one
step ahead of the Bologna Process; by now, nobody questions the concept of
the international classroom, or the status of English as the dominant
language of science.

Yet in recent months, English-medium instruction has become a topic of hot
debate. Are universities in the Netherlands trendsetters or simply out of
control, having forgotten the quintessence of education in the national
[image: Orange inflatable crown]
Europe watches as Dutch seek caps on English-language students

Read more

The Dutch Language Union was among the first to publish a critical report
in 2016. A year later, former minister of education Jet Bussemaker asked
the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to look into the matter.
The academy’s report
concludes that the language of instruction must be a matter of conscious
choice at programme level. The Association of Universities in the
Netherlands (VSNU) followed up by stating that that decision should be
taken in consultation with staff and students.

Most recently, the non-profit organisation Better Education Netherlands has
launched legal action against the Inspectorate of Higher Education and two
universities, claiming that anglicising higher education is in violation of
the Education Act, which states that all education be in Dutch unless there
is a good reason for another language.

Debating the pros and cons of English-taught programmes inevitably leads to
a discussion of the growth of the international student population in the
Netherlands. This is seen as a direct result of the easy accessibility of
higher education to non-Dutch students; not many European countries offer
so many high-quality and affordable programmes in English.

This expansion means that every university in the Netherlands experiences
challenges around overcrowding and the erosion of student-centred learning.
The latter jeopardises the Bologna aspiration of small-scale teaching with
flexible learning paths, individual guidance and timely and adequate

On several occasions, students have expressed their concern about the
English proficiency of both university staff and their fellow students.
Staff members have made similar complaints about their students and
colleagues. However, statistics do not necessarily support these
grievances. Student surveys do not show a significant difference in
appreciation of programmes taught in Dutch and English, and a 2017 study
by the European Association for International Education was inconclusive
about the quality of English-taught bachelor’s programmes in the European
Higher Education Area.

The peer review reports that are the basis for the programme accreditation
decisions made by NVAO
the accreditation organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders,
occasionally mention quality issues related to English-language proficiency
and growing student numbers. In general, however, peers are impressed by
the international teaching and learning environment. At institutional
level, some NVAO audit reports mention international student growth as
problematic in terms of maintaining a balanced student population,
sufficient staff and adequate facilities.

The present minister of education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, has asked NVAO
to advise her on the quality issue. In a letter to parliament
earlier this month, she emphasised the importance of a balanced approach
towards internationalisation, and underlined the full autonomy of
universities regarding both language choice and quality assurance. She is not
the first
to argue that the debate should focus not on internationalisation but on
maintaining quality.

NVAO could facilitate discussion with relevant stakeholders on quality
criteria and include them in its assessment frameworks. First, language
policies could become part of institutional audits: to what extent does the
policy support a balanced international classroom? How does the university
cope with the growing numbers of students in terms of quality? Second, in
the external assessment
of programmes, peers could examine the impact of the choice of language of
instruction on curriculum quality and student achievement; of special
interest would be the proficiency of graduates and staff in both English
and Dutch. And, third, the approval of representative bodies of students
and staff could be required in matters of internationalisation in general
and language of instruction in particular.

Such moves would offer universities terms of reference for reviewing their
international goals and action plans, and put them in the lead on
identifying and responding to quality issues related to

*Michèle Wera is a p**olicy adviser for **NVAO in The Hague. *


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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