Student - September 9, 2016

English-language Bachelor’s: a good idea?

Roelof Kleis,Albert Sikkema

The executive board will decide soon whether Wageningen BSc programmes should be English-taught, as MSc programmes already are. Resource asked several teachers and education directors what they think. Do the teachers and first-year students have a good enough command of English? Would using English harm the quality of the programmes?

Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Jan Philipsen, Degree programme director for Tourism (and others)

‘Personally I am very much in favour of English-language Bachelor’s programmes. I am director of the BSc in Tourism, the first fully English-language Bachelor’s programme in Wageningen. It is going very well, with a very internationally oriented group of students. But I am also director of the Landscape architecture and spatial planning programme, and that’s a more complicated case. On this programme we work with planning and design studios on location in the Netherlands, discussing local design and planning problems with other stakeholders and often using Dutch-language documentation. In an entirely English-language programme you would shut the students off from this Dutch-language information and context. So we need time to solve these kinds of practical problems. I don’t see quality problems in our English-language programme. On the BSc in Tourism we have international staff who are very capable of discussing things in English. There are a few exceptions, but you can replace or train those teachers. English gives added value. You broaden the scope of discussions when you have students from other countries.’

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Harm Biemans, Associate professor of Education and Competency Studies

‘I have no evidence that the introduction of English-language education negatively affects the quality. Most teachers have already been teaching on English-language MSc programmes for years, and the language of communication with PhD students and other researchers is often English too. You go into more depth in those research consultations than you do in a lecture at Bachelor’s level, so on the whole their language skills are fine. Students don’t seem to see the introduction of English-language education as disadvantageous, either. In fact it’s more of an advantage to them. They are English-oriented in primary and secondary school, and they will probably work in an international context later. In which case you might as well start communicating in English as soon as you can. Of course not all students are equally good at English but they are going to have to make that switch anyway. Better sooner than later.’

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Thom Kuijper, Professor of Soil Quality

‘I am afraid English-language education would affect quality in the first year. Surveys show that some students find even an English-language text book difficult in the first year. It is possible that the quality stays the same but the pass rate in exams goes down. There is a lot of variation among our Dutch students when it comes to English. I notice that on courses in the second and third year too. My students take the Soil Quality course in the second year and they have to write a report on it in English. Every year you get students writing that they have took “soil monsters”. Foreign students have to demonstrate an adequate command of English. If we require our Dutch students to do the same, I predict a drop in student numbers. Not that such a drop is necessarily a problem, mind you.’


Meghann Ormond, native speaking teacher bachelor Tourism

‘I’ve taught on Wageningen’s fully English-language bachelor programme since it began six years ago. I find the level of English among my BSc Tourism students very high, even among the first-year students who have come straight from secondary school. Their spoken and written English gets even better over the course of the degree programme. This is possibly due (in part) to the range of nationalities in the classroom: our Dutch students have a real incentive to use English. While I don’t think we need to raise the starting qualifications for students, I do think we need to give Dutch students more opportunities to strengthen their active English skills. This diversity clearly serves to enrich students’ formal educational experience and opens students up to other ways of thinking and being in the world. Expanding one’s horizons and making new connections should be, in my view, a key objective in one’s Bachelor’s-level studies.’

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Ralf Hartemink, Programme director Food technology

‘We at Food Technology would like an English-language Bachelor’s programme. Part of the first year and the whole of the second and third year of this programme is already taught in English. It’s a small step and it has advantages. You can get international teachers and PhD students to teach on Bachelor’s courses and you can attract better staff from other European countries. There is a lot of interest because our programmes are top quality. I don’t see many language problems. Most of the teachers have already been teaching in English for over ten years and they can express themselves fine in the language. The biggest problem is that a few teachers have a strong Dutch accent or translate Dutch idioms literally. Students are getting more critical and they complain about that. Those teachers get lower scores in course evaluations. But the students have no problems with classes and exams in English. For the first-year course Organic Chemistry 2, which is already in English, the students got a choice last year of an English or a Dutch exam. All 107 students chose the English exam. Students want to prepare for the labour market. And that is international and English-speaking.’


Sylvia van der Weerden, Head of Wageningen in’to Languages

‘Not much research has been done on the relation between use of English and the quality of university education. It has been studied at bilingual secondary schools though. What came out was that not only was the standard of English higher, which is logical, but the students also scored at least as highly in the other subjects. So the quality did not suffer. I would guess that the same would apply at university level. The standard of English among Wageningen students varies widely. Our impression is that the standard among Asian and African students is usually a bit lower. Dutch students are either very good or they just reach the threshold level, B2. I am in favour of gradually raising the minimum level to C1, the second highest level. The better your language skills, the better you can function together in the academic arena.’

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  • Tom

    Samenvattend: Niet alleen studenten hebben geen moeite met Engelstalig onderwijs, maar ook docenten en andere betrokkenen willen naar Engelstalig onderwijs. Makkelijke beslissing voor RvB, lijkt me!