Position Statement on Language in Higher Education and Internationalisation

November 16, 2023

The Young Academy responds to the Wet internationalisering in balans) bill: high-quality science and scholarship depend on the international exchange of knowledge, scholars and students. Moreover, The Young Academy sees language as an inadequate and inefficient instrument to control the inflow of international students in higher education.

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The Young Academy wishes to express its stance regarding the use of foreign languages in higher education and its impact on internationalisation. In short, we underscore that high-quality science and scholarship depend on the international exchange of knowledge, scholars and students. Moreover, The Young Academy sees language as an inadequate and inefficient instrument to control the inflow of international students in higher education. We do emphasise that careful consideration regarding the teaching language is important in the light of the quality of education and the inclusiveness and accessibility of the higher education system.

On 14 July 2023, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science introduced the Internationalisation in Balance (Wet internationalisering in balans) bill. This legislative proposal is aimed at addressing the significant increase in the number of international students in higher education in recent years. The Ministry reports that this increase has imposed an excessive workload on educators, potentially compromising the quality of education, and has further exacerbated housing shortages.

The proposed measures to address this issue involve stricter regulations and the requirement for prior approval by the Ministry for non-Dutch language programmes. These measures could lead to a shift from English (or another foreign language) to Dutch as the language of instruction in the case of several educational programmes.

The proposed bill grants higher education institutions the flexibility to justify the use of foreign languages in specific educational programmes. Nevertheless, the criteria for obtaining such approval remain unclear and are difficult to define, creating uncertainty in the academic community. While this flexibility offers opportunities, it also carries the risk of heavily restricting the use of foreign languages in higher education. The policy of the next government will play a pivotal role in fostering or obstructing the international profile of our higher education institutions.

The Young Academy believes that language is an inadequate and inefficient tool to address potential issues related to the growing number of international students. The debate must prioritise high educational quality and consider the impact of language on promoting inclusivity and diversity among both Dutch and non-Dutch students and faculty. Crucially, we are concerned that the ongoing discourse will negatively impact the much-needed development of an inclusive and diverse environment within our higher education institutions. We are equally troubled by how this debate resonates with international colleagues who perform invaluable work in our society and should, in turn, feel very welcome and appreciated within our institutions.

The ongoing discourse is highly politicised and polarised, often presenting internationalisation as a zero-sum game that threatens the position of Dutch students and the prosperity of Dutch society. Internationalisation is a vital pillar of academia, serving as a cornerstone for universities in addressing global challenges through interdisciplinary collaboration and resource sharing. Our international orientation is critical for attracting and retaining international talent as well as for facilitating the global mobility of Dutch students and academic staff. Crucially, internationalisation within our higher education institutions has fostered social and economic prosperity in the Netherlands. Numerous sectors of our society rely heavily on the international talent that has benefitted from education or that is currently employed at our higher education institutions.

We believe that the implementation of the Internationalisation in Balance bill should acknowledge the vital role of internationalisation in Dutch academia and society at large. Furthermore, it should consider that international colleagues make up a significant proportion, and in some instances the majority of the teaching and research faculty, with many individuals taking on both responsibilities. Many of those have been hired within international programs and have therefore never received the incentive and resources to acquire a proficient command of Dutch for teaching purposes. As a result, any mandates regarding the language of education will have an impact on the composition of the staff, including researchers. Shifting educational programmes to the Dutch language in institutions with a strong international profile may lead to the loss of expertise provided by international staff and a significant increase in the workload of Dutch-speaking colleagues.

The Young Academy will actively participate in dialogue with stakeholders, including the next government, to guarantee that language choices in education prioritise quality and accessibility within higher education institutions. Importantly, we will unreservedly support and safeguard the international profile of academia, opposing politically motivated threats to its existence.



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