The rector of Maastricht University, the second youngest university in the Netherlands claims that universities in Europe are being choked by the laws that compel them to use their native language as the medium of instruction instead of English.
Professor Luc Soete said that international conventions emphasize that it is the human right of undergraduates to be taught in their native language. This means that educational institutions can only offer courses taught in English if the same courses are offered in the country’s native language.
The Maastricht University rector spoke at the Young Universities Summit in Dublin, organized by Times Higher Education (THE), the London-based weekly magazine that is UK’s leading publication in the field of education. He said that he had negotiated with the government of Netherlands to allow Maastricht University to offer courses taught only in English. He also introduced a program to establish a high ranking world class university through a system he called as “English unless,” which makes classes available to students with English as the default language.
The professor pointed out that there are many universities in Europe where the country’s legal framework prevents them from being innovative in preparing their students for internationalization. He cited that it is of particular concern for educational institutions in countries such as Belgium and other Scandinavian countries where the native languages are quite minor. It would come at a huge cost for Belgian universities to offer courses taught in English since the political support for such a scheme is comparatively small. Dutch is not going to be a useful language for their graduates when it comes to the international scene. Thus, top universities in Belgium such as the University of Antwerp, Ghent University and University of Leuven do not score high in world rankings on the international level.
The professor, who is Belgian, also added that a third of the academic staff and half of the students at Maastricht are not from the Netherlands. He said that the international outlook he was aiming for was partly due to the uncertainty among students about their future job prospects, which he said educational institutions have the moral obligation to respond to.
It is optional for foreign students in Maastricht to take Dutch language course together with their main subject. This is part of the strategy to encourage at least 22 percent of these international students to stay in the Netherlands after they graduate.
Doing a comparative, Professor Soete said that if a student who only speaks French studies in Belgium, the student would remain unilingual after graduation, making it difficult for the student to get a job within Belgium. However, if the same student studies at Maastricht, he or she would be fluent in English, retain French and will also be able to learn Dutch. This is the reason, he said, why Maastricht is seeing a remarkable increase in enrollment of French-speaking students. It is a move that other Dutch universities are emulating.
Image Copyright: Maastricht, Netherlands Lilyana Vynogradova / 123RF Stock Photo