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Dutch universities urged to offer more English-taught programmes

Announcements 20 August, 13:39

Minister of Dutch higher education Jet Bussemaker urged students and lecturers to improve their intercultural skills to better prepare for English-taught programmes. Such programmes attract more overseas students and help graduates to find better jobs abroad and in international companies.

Graduation ceremony at Wittenborg UniversityInternational programmes attract more students and help graduates find better jobs abroad or at international companies. Incumbent minister of Dutch higher education, Jet Bussemaker, urges students and lecturers to improve their intercultural skills to be better prepared for more English-taught programmes.

The Netherlands benefits from international programmes

Dutch universities across the country offer a total of nearly 3,000 programmes taught in English. This wide variety of programmes is one of the main reasons why many international students choose to come to the Netherlands to pursue their higher education. Over one third of international students remain in the country after graduation, finding jobs to begin their careers.

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) explored how English-taught programmes affect Dutch higher education, as well as the impact they have on the country as a whole. Their research has shown that international graduates stimulate the country’s economy, while also enriching its cultural potential.

International programmes taught in English also proved to be of higher quality than programmes taught in Dutch. This is because lecturers and students of international programmes require additional language and intercultural skills to succeed at teaching and learning.

Bussemaker’s remarks in a letter to parliament support the KNAW findings, urging Dutch institutions, students, and lecturers to improve their proficiency in English and to work on their intercultural skills as a way to prepare for more international programmes. The findings will work towards forming policy and a new higher education strategy that will be presented as recommendations to the recently formed parliament.

Why aren’t all programmes international?

Although international programmes are beneficial to the Netherlands, it’s difficult to impose policy that requires all programmes to be taught in English for two main reasons.

First, teaching or studying in English requires both lecturers and students to have high proficiency levels in the language. Second, an international programme requires lecturers and students to be aware of and know how to deal with exposure to the cultures and traditions of other nationalities. Developing intercultural skills that can be used in a classroom full of people from all over the world is an important prerequisite for ensuring that participants receive comprehensive international preparation.

To solve these problems, universities would need to organise language courses at an academic English level and would also need to account for intercultural education. By doing this, institutions can better prepare students and staff for possible changes in higher education policies and a potential increase in English-taught programmes.

Universities agree with the Minister

The Association for Universities of Applied Sciences (Vereniging Hogenscholen) supports Bussemaker’s direction, stating that using English in Dutch higher education is a good idea, as long as it can give students (both Dutch and foreign) more international perspectives in an increasingly globalised world.

Wittenborg University teaches in English

A few universities in the Netherlands already offer international programmes only. One of them is Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences.

Wittenborg is a small private university, accredited by the Dutch government. It specialises in Business education and offers programmes leading to Bachelor’s, Master’s, or MBA degrees. There are about 500 students of 80 nationalities enrolled in the university’s programmes in Apeldoorn and Amsterdam.

To see a full range of the programmes available at Wittenborg, please visit the university’s website.

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