[Column] The Dutch language

Bas Rooijakkers does not agree with all bachelor degree programmes being given in Dutch again. What he does believe is that you learn better if your course is in Dutch.

Bas Rooijakkers: “Until a new Cabinet takes office, I’m holding my breath.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Have you already heard the news? Geert Wilders and his party (the Party for Freedom that won the most votes in the recent elections) have won 37 seats. The Netherlands is starting to look a little like the United States where the cities are left leaning and the countryside leans right. I tried to watch the debates, but as was expected they did not cover substantive issues and were instead platforms with a lot of screaming and shouting. This was the third time that I could vote, and I am starting to see that my political convictions are becoming more and more strongly anchored.

The main subject of these elections was immigration, a subject about which my thoughts are generally ‘leftist’. An issue that falls under this is the internationalisation of education. Pieter Omtzigt (founder and leader of the New Social Contract party) wants to limit the inflow of international students and argues for more Dutch at universities. I saw many responses online dismissing this, and our own Rector too does not think this is a good idea. But it is worth discussing.

My first point is this. There are significant shortages of highly educated people in all sectors, and I think it would be good if international students could fill these gaps. Read for example the Delta article about Denmark, where there are shortages of highly educated people. Furthermore, it is too simplistic to blame the shortage of rooms only on international students. Student houses are often on the lookout for Dutch housemates, so Dutch students still have priority.

A large proportion of the bachelor degree programmes at TU Delft are in English, as are almost all master degree programmes. I think that universities should also consider the issue of access to degree programmes for Dutch students. They learn better if their degree programme is given in Dutch. Regardless of how confident we are about our mastery of English, for many it remains a second language that we learn from watching films. It is quite demanding for new Dutch students to not only understand academic English, but to also then have to write it themselves.

You learn better in your own language

In response to the anti-internationalisation statements in politics, Tim van der Hagen and the rectors of the Universities of Twente, Eindhoven, Wageningen, Groningen, and of course TU Delft, wrote an opinion piece (in Dutch) in the Volkskrant newspaper. He argues that we will need a lot of engineers for the big societal transitions. This may be the case, but I do wonder if we are not rationalising it the wrong way. Are universities only there to hand out as many degrees as possible?

I think the proposal to revert back to Dutch for all degree programmes is ridiculous. Even in Applied Physics (at the time still in Dutch) some subjects were given in English as the professor was the only one who could teach the subject properly and he happened to be English. So let’s forget that idea, but let’s continue to look critically at the internationalisation of education if it does not add anything to the degree programme itself.

Maybe it is also time to be more proud of our language. If it is proposed to make Dutch the main language at universities, people immediately feel sorry for international students. “You cannot expect them all to learn Dutch?” In other countries it is perfectly normal to learn the language if you live there. Let’s embrace this and recognise that Dutch is a language to be proud of.

Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.

Bas Rooijakkers / Columnist

Columnist Bas Rooijakkers

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