Science - March 11, 2004

‘Internationalisation is going too slowly’

There was almost unanimous agreement among the ninety participants attending the conference on internationalisation of education organised by OtherWise last Monday. The university needs to get a move on with attracting more foreign teaching staff and improving the English of both Dutch students and lecturers.

Many speakers, from the president of the Wageningen student union WSO to the distinguished professor Patrick Morley, called for the internationalisation of the scientific personnel at Wageningen UR. Although about fifty percent of the MSc students in Wageningen are of international origin, the number of foreign chairs is under six percent, calculated the historian Dr Margreet van der Burg for the audience. Another distinguished professor, Louise Fresco, echoed the sentiments in her concluding speech: “We are not doing our best, we have to make much more effort. Attracting the best in the world has to be our most important challenge.”

English
The level of English of both teachers and students still leaves a lot to be desired. “The university must guarantee a minimum level of English of lecturers,” concluded Patrick Morley, summarising the day’s activities. The University of Groningen now has a compulsory English test, and sixty percent of the teaching staff failed. A number of those present at the conference suggested that all education in Wageningen should be given in English. According to Louise Fresco, Wageningen University makes an international embarrassment of itself with its website and written communication in English. She called it ‘incomprehensible’ that the Wageningen UR business magazine, Resource, is in Dutch and not English, and if information does appear in English, then the level of English is ‘terrible’. “When I try to read things on the website, I often can only make sense of them by translating back into Dutch,” commented Fresco. Students present also complained about the level of English and teaching. “There are no real Master’s level courses here,” claimed one MSc student. “When it comes to working in groups I’m often the only Master’s student. That was OK for getting to know Dutch students, but I didn’t learn much. Most of the time I felt I had to teach the others in the group, as well as helping them with their English. They were incapable of taking part in a discussion in English. Most of the time we hear about the English of the foreigners here, but Dutch students often speak worse English.”

Segregation
Students present at the conference indicated that the university could be stricter across the board. Many are surprised at the frequent opportunities for exam retakes. “What is your MSc worth if everyone gets it?” commented a German MSc student. “Foreign students are just added on to the Dutch system, while really we should be an integral part,” suggested a Colombian student. Many of those present felt that foreign students still form a separate group, whereas the term ‘international student’ should apply to everyone here. There were also comments about the support and monitoring for foreign students. “Here you go to a lecture, and afterwards you go home, because there’s nothing else to do,” commented Dr Chun Ming Liu of Plant Research International. “At American universities it’s normal that student assistants show new students the way around. Students here need help to understand the education system.”

Guido van Hofwegen

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