News - March 27, 2013

BSc degrees in English?

All Wageningen University MSc programmes are already taught in English. Now there is a move afoot to teach all the BSc degree courses in English too in the belief that it would reinforce Wageningen's international character.

Is it a good idea to teach the BSc programmes entirely in English?

Alexander Dank
First-year student on the orientation year for Life Sciences
'I think it's a good idea. Now you are sometimes taught in Dutch from material that is in English. It is better to do it all either in English or in Dutch. And that is better than starting out in Dutch and slowly switching to English too. If students think their English is not good enough before they come, you could offer an English course as well. You run up against that problem at some point anyway. I notice myself that it is harder for me to extract information from English-language books. Perhaps there should be more guidance on that during the first period.'

I-Hui Lin
Master's student of Leisure, Tourism and Environment, from Vietnam
'Yes, I think all the Bachelor's programmes should be in English. That is already the case in the tourism group in which I am doing my Master's. I noticed that these Bachelor's students can already communicate very well with Master's students. That makes it easy for Bachelor's students to start taking Master's courses already, which some of them are keen to do. If Wageningen University wants to become even more international, this would be a good way of attracting more foreign students.  Personally, though, I would prefer to do an English-language Bachelor's in England or America because it is easier to improve your English if everybody around you is speaking English too.'

Sjors Bijen
Master's student of Development and Rural Innovation
'I am against. A lot of secondary school students who have just left school are not fluent enough in English to make the switch straightaway. My own English was not very good and I was quite happy to be taught in Dutch when I first started at university. You have to give students a bit of time to get used to their new way of life. There is more and more pressure on them anyway, thanks to the government's new rules and regulations. This way you make higher education even less accessible. You don't want a situation in which only an elite group that is already fluent in English can go to university. I must say, though, that I do think the books could all be in English. Then the students can start getting used to it, but the whole Bachelor's in English? No, definitely not.  

Svenja Mielke
First-year student of International Development Studies, from Germany
'For international students like me I think it is easier if the course is in English right from the start. It is good from the international perspec­tive too. If you are more fluent in English, you might be more likely to go abroad to do your Master's. On the other hand, if my Bachelor's was in English I wouldn't speak Dutch at all, because it wouldn't be necessary. You would probably get more Germans coming to Wageningen if the Bachelor's programmes were in English. But when Germans choose Wageningen it's because they really want to study here. Otherwise you wouldn't be prepared to spend the summer before you start doing an intensive Dutch course. And on an English BSc course international students would stick together even more too.'

André van Lammeren
Teaches Plant Sciences to first-years, amongst other courses
'Weighing up all the pros and cons, I tend to favour keeping Dutch as the language of communication in the BSc programmes. At least for the first year. One advantage of a completely English-language Bachelor's is that it would attract more foreign students. Another advantage is that most textbooks are already in English, so the classes and the materials complement each other better. It would also provide more uniformity across the board in the BSc degrees. It wouldn't matter where you came from; you would all speak the same language.
But Dutch students might be put off if they had to do everything in English right from the start. A transition year would help students get used to academic English. Another disadvantage is that students would no longer master the Dutch terminology for their subjects. If you switch to English straightaway, students will end up only knowing the English jargon. That makes it harder to communicate with the general public, which could increase the gap between the university and society. So you should give some thought to what you gain by switching to English.'