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Dutch language under siege in Utrecht

Last updated 2 years ago by Jon Wilkins

There has been an article on the BBC News website that could be alarming to some.

Dutch is no longer being used to teach in Utrecht University!

At honours level teaching at Utrecht hardly any courses are now being taught in Dutch

English is the university’s language of choice says Frank van Rijnsoever.

This widespread use of English in Dutch universities, has seen a group of lecturers predicting “linguicide” and they have demanded that the government impose a moratorium banning universities from adding any additional English language courses until an impact analysis has been conducted.

Sixty per cent of the Masters programmes at Utrecht University are taught  in English. At the highest honours level, virtually no courses are taught in Dutch.

So the biggest challenge for Dutch students at Utrecht is not the subject matter, but that they have to do all their studies in English

As most of the literature is in English this may not be a great problem however.

The lecturers also do their research in English.

The Netherlands has one of the world’s highest levels of English proficiency among non-native speaking countries, second only to Sweden, according to the latest EF English Proficiency Index.

For many Utrecht students taking an internationally orientated Master’s in English made sense as the subject was broader than in the Netherlands and it qualifies the students to progress in an  international career.

It seems that some Dutch universities have completely erased the Dutch language from their campus. At one, even the sandwiches in the canteens are sold as cheese rather than with the Dutch word “kaas”.

Not everyone is happy with the Anglicisation at university as it is cutting at the whole identity of the  Dutch language and people are starting to wonder about what will happen to the identity of a people of a country where the native language is no longer the main language of higher education.

A linguistics professor has said that the Dutch aren’t as good at English as they think they are and that they should not be using this weaker language in education. This will obviously have a detrimental effect on the Dutch language as if they continue to use English in higher education, Dutch will eventually get worse. Dutch will deteriorate and the vitality of the language will disappear. ~This situation is called imbalanced bilingualism, where speakers will start to add a bit of English to their language practice and lose a bit of Dutch.

While English can of course help to ease students into the global market, others feel its use is excluding them from jobs in their homeland.

The political debate is intensifying of course as more UK citizens move to The Netherlands because companies wish to remain in the EU post-Brexit,

But of course Dutch universities are merely competing for students in a bid to survive, they need foreign students to keep going. Without them they will be at risk.

Utrecht University offers over 80 Master’s programmes in English as well as honours programmes

The Utrecht University Rector Henk Kummeling feels that that moving towards English has been a process but accepts that when competing internationally, it makes sense to use a world language. But he insists that the Dutch culture will stay for centuries. When they talk as Dutchmen amongst themselves, they speak Dutch.

There has to be a limit, there is a danger that universities are trying to increase their international profile while pushing for income from foreign students, while making compromises in other ways.

Has Utrecht sold out to foreign wealth?

Are Dutch students hampered by this approach?

Would you want to be taught in a foreign language at your own University?

What price will the Dutch language pay if this is the future of higher Education?

Jon Wilkins
Jon Wilkins
Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.


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