Dutch universities are accused of abandoning their own language to attract lucrative foreign students

Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
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Too many university courses are being taught in English in the Netherlands, an advocacy group says, and it’s hurting Dutch students.

A lobby group, Better Education Netherlands (BON), is threatening to sue the Dutch government over the “Anglicization” (link in Dutch) of higher education in the Netherlands. The lobby group is calling on the coalition government to ensure universities are complying with a law (link in Dutch) that requires them to teach in Dutch.

More than half of Dutch university courses (60%) are taught entirely in English, according to an analysis by the Dutch daily newspaper Volkskrant. The figure was even higher when looking at masters degree courses; over 70% are taught entirely in English.

The government has a provision that allows universities to teach in another language in special circumstances—if, for example, the lecture is being given by a foreign teacher. But the BON suggests universities are abusing this loophole for financial reasons.

Across Europe, universities are introducing English-language degrees in a bid to attract more foreign students and earn more money. If so, it seems to be working: According to one 2016 study, the Netherlands has the highest number of English-taught university courses in mainland Europe. Over the last decade, the number of international students at research universities jumped by 10 percentage points, from 8.2% to 18%. The majority of international students came to the Netherlands to study economy and business, human and social science, and engineering.

The lobby group insists this is a problem for Dutch students, who are losing out on using their own language at university. BON also argues that the use of English is lowering education standards as lecturers and students are being denied the opportunity to learn in their native tongue.

Last year, the Netherlands was named the country with the highest level of English proficiency among non-native speaking countries, according to the EF English Proficiency Index. The Netherlands beat out 72 countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Norway, to get the top spot. That said, in 2015, a number of Dutch students complained that Dutch professors were given lectures in poor English.