It’s a survival strategy

The number of English-language bachelor programmes has doubled

More and more English is being spoken at Leiden University. Now more than half the courses are given in English and this year, the number of English-language bachelor programmes has nearly doubled. However, it doesn’t always fare well in the workplace.

(Het iets uitgebreidere Nederlandse origineel van dit artikel staat hier)
2,754 of the 4,618 courses at the university are taught in English. That’s almost sixty per cent – quite a lot more than the 1,671 taught in Dutch (36 per cent). The remaining four per cent of courses are taught in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese.

Eighty per cent of the 273 Master programmes and specialist subjects are entirely in English, which means that the great majority of English-language courses are to be found there. Nonetheless, English is on the rise in Bachelor’s programmes too: this year saw the launch of five English-language tracks, bringing us to a total of 11 out of 59 programmes – almost double the number.

Let’s take a quick look. The Bachelor track at Political Sciences was transferred from Leiden, becoming International Relations and Organizations (IRO) in The Hague, and Bachelor programme Security Studies is new this year too. In Leiden, an English-language track at Art History was added to Humanities: Arts, Media and Society. The English-language Philosophy programme Global and Comparative Perspectives is also new. At the Faculty of Archaeology, first-year students can choose whether they want attend classes taught in English or Dutch.

Mixed-Mode
There’s more in store: next year, Archaeology is setting up a new programme called Heritage and Society. The Board of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology is planning an English-language version, although Dutch education will remain available, according to Programme Director Jan Jansen: “We’re working on a mixed-mode version which still has lots of space for Dutch-speaking students.” First-years can decide to attend tutorials and do their exams in Dutch; later, they can write their thesis in Dutch too. The plans are to be presented to the Faculty Board soon.

To recap: the university is rapidly becoming more international. “Leiden University is preparing for a growing influx of international students”, the educational vision statement announces. “More and more students are looking for programmes abroad and many are hoping to get a place at one of the top 100 universities.”

“To be honest, it’s a survival strategy”, Marion Boerse, the Art History Programme Director, explains. “Universities’ funding is based on growth, but there are limits to growth. You can’t stay afloat with just Dutch students. We have good reasons regarding content for setting up our English-language programme, but it’s also to do with revenue models. It might be at odds with what happens in the workplace”, she continues, “but in the end, it’s your job. Looking to the future, you don’t want to have to sack thirty per cent of your staff.”

Teething trouble
There was “quite a lot of teething trouble” when they set up the programme, but it still managed to attract 45 new students in its first year. “We have more than eighty now, so we’re the market leader.”
However, “too little thought” was given to some matters. “Things that used to be a matter of course are now strained. Students used to get to know each other automatically, but not now. It’s more difficult to create a community.”

At other faculties too, the transition is not without problems. The Science Faculty’s plans to switch entirely to English for astronomy, physics and computer sciences were rejected by the Faculty Council earlier this year. The council members were concerned about the accessibility to Dutch students and thought – as the Master’s programme is entirely in English – that there should be a kind of “transitional phase” where students could gradually switch from Dutch to English.

Martijn Janse of the ONS student party was one of the people who voted against the plans. “It’s to do with capacity issues too. Student numbers have skyrocketed at Physics. Housing needs attention: we have international students sleeping in tents – that’s just not on.”

Rear-guard action
Even so, the advance of English-language education can’t be stopped, claims Jan Kolen, Vice Dean of the Archaeology Faculty. “I know there’s a lobby to re-introduce Dutch-language courses, but for there a rear-guard action being fought for certain disciplines.

At his faculty, first-years can choose between Dutch and English classes. After the first year, all the education is in English, although students can ask to submit written work in Dutch.

Kolen believes it’s because it’s an international field. “The standard of Dutch academic archaeology is high and so you step straight into an international community. Many academics work abroad and publish in Nature and other prominent journals. There’s no other way about it if you’re ambitious: most of our staff are not Dutch. I’m gradually becoming one of the exceptions. You can’t teach in Dutch only if you have international lecturers, PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and students.”

Boers, too, expects that English language education will continue to expand. “If the funding system doesn’t change, universities will keep competing with each other. It will only end when we dare to share programmes; for instance, group Art History in Amsterdam and Dutch in Leiden. It means lots of downsizing, and we’ll need to see which university does what best. But we’ve been saying that for twenties years now.” (Anoushka Kloosterman)

Facts and Figures
At Leiden University, according to the guide, there are 4,618 courses this academic year (including internships, theses, elective subjects, terms abroad, etc.). English is the spoken language on 2,754 of them.

Most courses are at the Humanities faculty: 2006. Archaeology has the smallest number; this faculty has 125.
Humanities offers courses in 9 languages. As well as English (1,148 courses), classes are taught in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese.

The faculty at which the most English is spoken is Archaeology: 120 of the 125 courses are given in English. The five Dutch courses are part of the Honours College. Bachelors can still decide to take Dutch-language classes:
16 per cent of Leiden’s Bachelor programmes are taught in English (11 of the 59).
Of the Masters, including specialist subjects, 81 per cent are in English (221 of the 273).
The faculty where the most Dutch is spoken in Law, where, at the Bachelor’s and the Master’s programmes, 28 and 52 per cent are taught in English.

English-language faculties, based on courses
Archaeology (96 per cent)
Governance and Global Affairs (85 per cent)
Social Sciences (62 per cent)
Maths and Natural Sciences (59 per cent)
Humanities (57 per cent)
Medicine (51 per cent)
Law (40 per cent)

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