News - April 23, 2009


In recent years only a handful of Wageningen University PhD theses have been written in languages other than English. This is what Professor Paul Struik, member of the Doctorate Board, said in response to a complaint about the new Doctorate regulation that came into effect in March.

A striking change is that the PhD defence may now only be conducted in English or Dutch. In a letter to Resource (no. 24), Professor Jos van der Maesen described it as ‘regrettable’ that French was being scrapped. He is attached to a chair group that has a lot of contacts in Francophone Africa, and says that there have indeed been French-language PhD defences in the field of plant taxonomy. ‘But to be honest, I can’t remember any specific examples. It is quite some time ago. I can remember a thesis in Italian and even a thesis in Friesian. In recent years there were a couple in Spanish and a couple in Dutch. The Dutch ones are mainly in the social sciences.’ The rest of the theses are all in English.

‘The problem with holding PhD defences in other languages is that you have to find opponents and an acting rector who can follow the discussion’, says Struik. ‘A PhD is assessed on both the thesis and the defence. If you want to do ir properly, then all the members of the examining committee should be able to follow the debate well enough to assess it.’ Finding enough committee members who are proficient in Spanish, French, Italian or Friesian seems to be difficult.