International students should be encouraged to stay in the Netherlands, and a compulsory Dutch language course could help, says conservative parliamentarian Pieter Duisenberg. Minister Bussemakers wonder whether making it compulsory wouldn’t put people off. So: should a Dutch language course be compulsory for foreign students?
Pieter Duisenberg - Member of Parliament (VVD)
‘Politicians are quick to assume that a language course would put students off, but actually international students often regret not doing more to learn the language.
That is a pity. I want to see as much internationalization as possible in education. But it is win-win for Dutch and foreign students, if they take an elementary course in Dutch. Now it either doesn’t happen at all or it’s too optional. Twelve weeks, with three hours a week, would suffice. And it would increase the chances
of student staying on here after their studies. Now most students leave the Netherlands after their studies. We badly need foreign talent. So what would help? Excellent international degree programmes and a visa extension to look for work. And the key factor for staying on after the course: a basic command of Dutch. Make it a bit less optional than it is now. Is that too much to ask? The Netherlands invests in every student. Put them off? Nonsense. It’s simply win-win.’
Hetty van der Stoep - Study advisor MSc Landscape Architecture and Planning
‘The arguments for Duisenberg’s proposal raise questions. On what does he base his statement that students don’t stay because they are not taken on by employees for language reasons? Has there been any research on that? The growth of the WUR is largely thanks to foreign students. Some of the foreign students on our programmes are aiming at a better job or a career in science in their own countries. They don’t need Dutch for that. The knowledge economy isn’t based on the Dutch language. I think we’d be better off investing in the standard of communication in English among international students, as well as giving them the opportunity to do a Dutch course. That strikes me as a more liberal approach that fits the VVD better than a patronizing proposal like this.’
Mohammed Mohandis -Member of Parliament (PvdA)
‘That kind of language course is totally irrelevant to remaining a popular destination for top international talent. In the academic world, English is the language of communication anyway, as it is of most of the teaching material on Master’s courses. Pieter’s plan is outdated and ignores the globalization of the academic world in which English is the lingua franca. Of course we want students to settle here after their courses, but making language courses compulsory will have the opposite effect. It will put students off, and few of them will choose to study in the Netherlands in the first place. Fortunately the minister responded critically to the plan, and we share her view that a language course of that kind for foreign university students is undesirable.’
Sylvia van der Weerden - Head Wageningen in’to Languages
‘Wageningen in’to Languages fully supports the idea that all foreign students should take a Dutch course, combined with intercultural skills. To fit in here in the Netherlands and perhaps stay here long-term, it is very important to have a basic knowledge of the Dutch language and culture. They will look back on their time in Wageningen more positively if they were better able to integrate. That way you feel more welcome. You can get a long way in a short time. We advise taking a minimum of two or three courses in order to reach a basic level with which you can get by pretty well. You won’t get as much out of just one course, but it does cover several cultural issues. Compulsory is a big word. Wageningen UR encourages students to take a language course and does not charge much for it.’
René Hoogendam -Study advisor Molecular Life Sciences
‘It is useful in this context to distinguish between Bachelor’s and Master’s students. For Master’s students I think it’s simple: a compulsory Dutch course would go against Wageningen University’s international character. It would put foreign students off choosing this university for their Master’s. For Bachelor’s students it’s a different story. Since part of the course is taught in Dutch, a command of the language is an important criterion. Some German students have to take a Dutch course in order to be admitted. At the Bachelor’s stage, a language course is in fact already compulsory at Wageningen. In my view it can stay that way. I don’t think the influx of foreign students would increase much if we started teaching BSc courses in English. And the material the first-years have to learn is hard enough already, without making it harder unnecessarily.’