Hardly anyone is studying German these days (and now employers are after first-years)
Leiden’s German Language and Culture programme is in danger and may have to start cooperating with programmes in Utrecht and Amsterdam. The reason for this is the very low intake: often under ten students a year. ‘If we do nothing, we’re more vulnerable.’
Sebastiaan van Loosbroek
Tuesday 14 March 2023
Foto Taco van der Eb

The so-called ‘Randstad cooperation’ is necessary to counter the extremely low student intake. The number of students enrolling in Leiden's German programme is sometimes under ten per year.

‘The main concern is that the Executive Boards and the Ministry of Education want to make a clean sweep of extremely small programmes’, Jeroen Touwen of the Humanities Faculty Board recently explained during a Faculty Council meeting. ‘In order to prevent this, the deans of the Humanities faculties said: “Let’s see if we can set up a cooperation.” That doesn’t mean we’re going to combine the programmes, but rather that we’re going to use each other's expertise.’

Lecturers from the three universities have been meeting recently to see which programme components can be offered jointly. The idea is to do this in the first semester of the second year of study, because no minors, study abroad periods or theses are planned for that semester.

‘The programmes are currently working on how this can be made concrete’, says Touwen. For example, they’re considering whether students should have to travel to another city or be offered a number of courses online.

‘The aim of this cooperation is not to cut back on costs, but to strengthen the quality’

Council member Adriaan Rademaker referred to a recent annual report of the German programme, which contained a number of heartfelt concerns: ‘There were worries that this could lead to a merger or termination. Have those concerns now been lifted?’

‘I hope so’, Touwen responded. ‘It’s possible that people are still worried, but if we do nothing, we’re more vulnerable. In that case, there would be a constant threat of intervention from above. By seeking cooperation ourselves, we can try to avoid that.’

He also pointed out that the aim of this cooperation is not to ‘cut back on costs’, but to ‘strengthen the quality’. In addition, he stated that Leiden’s German programme has been awarded the designation 'top programme' by the Keuzegids Universiteiten 2023. ‘But on the other hand, the extremely low intake puts the programme at risk. We have to do something about that.’

But the Ministry of Education would be shooting itself in the foot if it were to terminate the programmes, Touwen suggested. ‘We need German teachers, but we know that students often select a university based on the region. If the programme in Leiden were to be axed, chances are that students will no longer choose to study German in another city, but instead pursue another programme in Leiden.’

The programme chair, coordinator of studies and lecturers of the German programme did not want to answer any questions.


Daimy Ligterink (19) is a first-year German Language and Culture student and is also studying law top of that. ‘Every week, I receive messages on LinkedIn from companies who want to hire me.’

‘I used to hate German in the third year of secondary school. I failed all my tests. I particularly struggled with those grammatical cases. But suddenly, the penny dropped and I became very good at it. When I was introduced to German literature in the fifth year, with Goethe and Heinrich Heine, I realised I had to do something with this.

‘It was only during my first year of law that I found out it was also possible to study German. At my secondary school, there was no promotion for language programmes at all: all you ever heard about was law, economics and medicine. That’s when I thought: I'm going to study for two degrees.

‘Right from the first day of study, I enjoyed it more than in secondary school. You delve deeper into the subject matter, the lecturers are very involved and do research themselves. I also really like the fact that we have a small group. I'm used to very large lecture halls at law school, where there is zero personal attention. You feel like a number, it’s awful. But with German, it’s the exact opposite.

‘I’m pretty introverted. I never speak up during my law seminars, unless it's my turn. In my German tutorials, the lecturer sometimes asks if I can be quiet for a moment. It’s also much easier to go through the course material with fellow students. I don’t do that at law school.

‘The reason why the programme attracts so few students, I think, is because society's focus is mainly on science programmes and medicine. People think that if you study a language, your only option is to become a teacher. When I decided I wanted to study German as well, my parents said: “You’re going to study a language? But what can you do with that?”


‘But the career prospects are actually very good. Every week, I receive messages on LinkedIn from companies who want to hire me. Mostly in sales, so the customer contact can be handled in German. But also secondary schools asking if I will come and teach there, because there’s such a shortage. But they have to be patient; I already have a part-time job and I’m enrolled in two programmes.

‘There’s a detailed plan on the table to cooperate with the German programmes in Utrecht and Amsterdam. I attended a meeting of the Programme Committee on this matter, in which they asked for input from students in different years of study. If we don't do that, there’s a chance our programme will be scrapped.

‘If we do choose to cooperate, it would just be for one semester, initially. But if that cooperation works well, the fear is that this would be used as an argument to merge the programmes. So we did place certain conditions on it. For example, ensuring that students don’t have to travel to another city more than twice a week and that the programmes will not cut back on lecturers.

‘It’d be a shame if the cooperation goes ahead and we have to attend lectures in other cities. I deliberately chose to study in Leiden. I really like the small group and I'm familiar with the students and lecturers. Plus, I don’t have a bike in Utrecht and Amsterdam, so it’s also not as easy for me to get around there.’


Robin Bergman (22) is a first-year German Language and Culture student and also studies classical languages. ‘There are even fewer students in the years above us.’

‘In the third year of my Greek and Latin Language and Culture programme, I decided to start studying German as well. You don't learn to speak Greek and Latin, you just study the language. I wanted to work with a living language.

‘I chose German because I love German literature, especially Kafka and Maria Remarque. German literature has many great authors.

‘When I found out that it’s an extremely small programme, I was very surprised. The Russian and French language programmes have a lot more students, so I expected the same for German. We started with thirteen students, but a few dropped out. So there are about ten of us now, with the girls slightly outnumbering the boys. There are even fewer students in the years above me.

‘At first, I found the small size of the group to be quite intimidating: not only do people talk to you in German, you also have to speak German back. I felt a little apprehensive and uncertain about that, but it does force you to speak the language. And we’re all in the same boat, so we all go down fighting together.


‘You also get used to it. Sometimes I even think in German now, or when I’m watching TV and there’s a sentence that I didn’t quite catch, I complete it in German in my head.

‘There’s a good atmosphere within our programme. Because it's so small, you get to know each other and the lecturers very well. And that’s beneficial. Most students are also following a second programme, like law, history or political science. Only few exclusively study German. Maybe that's because the programme is so small, and most students also want to be involved in a programme with more people.

‘German is a widely-spoken language, so I don’t really understand why so few people choose to study it. The lecturers think it’s odd too. There is plenty of work. There’s a huge shortage of German teachers in secondary schools. So finding a job is not really an issue.

‘The fact that the programme is now seeking cooperation with other universities is not something my fellow students and I saw coming. I can understand that, from a financial point of view, a minimum number of students is required to keep a programme running.

‘A potential consequence could be that, in the future, we’d have to go to other universities to attend lectures. That would be inconvenient for me, because I’m in a wheelchair and I'm also following a second programme here in Leiden. But it could also be fun, because you’d get to know more students.’