Over the past week, we have analysed the Parliamentary Education, Culture and Science Committee's debate on the internationalisation of higher education. The feeling that prevails widely within UT: concern. At the same time, we are determined to find a way forward in the spirit of the resilient organisation that we are and we are confident of succeeding in this.
The debate created a perception that we may be taking a step backwards rather than forwards. As far as the Executive Board of the University of Twente is concerned, we should be looking for opportunities that strengthen rather than weaken academic education and research.
We recognise the importance of paying more attention to the Dutch language at higher education institutions and consider it necessary to contribute. But it is about finding the right balance. The course initiated in The Hague seems to be mainly aimed at reducing internationalisation, but in a way that also weakens its positive contributions. We find this a worrying development and one that requires adjustment. We hope to see that happening in the coming months.
Minister Dijkgraaf sets to work on a bill and agreements with universities and universities of applied sciences, which should lead to more Dutch-language higher education and may also limit the scope for internationalisation. The details of the bill are not yet clearly articulated, and much will depend on these details. The plans focus mainly on bachelor education, and new legislation is planned to take effect from the 2025-2026 academic year. Until then, nothing will change.
In the debate, minister Dijkgraaf indicated that in bachelor's programmes taught in Dutch, a maximum of one-third of education might soon be taught in English. The number of (new) bachelor's programmes that have English as the language of instruction should also be limited by imposing stricter requirements on when this is and is not allowed. At the moment, it is not yet clear what that standard will look like.
We do expect a strict standard. There was an understanding in Parliament for possible exceptions, for instance, for universities in border regions, study programmes that educate for jobs in sectors with high employment and specific programmes such as university colleges. However, there is also a desire to limit the number of exceptions.
We currently have 22 bachelor’s programmes at UT, 18 of which are English-language. The other programmes are Dutch-speaking but include modules and subjects taught in English. In this way, students in these programmes receive their education from the best academics, with the most appropriate literature. Student appreciation is perennially high; for years, UT has scored among the best universities in the National Student Survey, the most important student satisfaction survey in the Netherlands.
We should be prepared that, for UT programmes, we will again have to substantiate which language of instruction best suits the programme, even though critical consideration has already taken place in the accreditation processes.
Our international community makes a significant contribution to the university we are today: a scientific institution with academic education and research of international excellence, making a societal impact in various ways. For example, through the 58 thousand alumni we have delivered through the years and the more than a thousand startups that have emerged from the entrepreneurial nature of the ecosystem around UT.
We currently have around three thousand international students and twelve hundred international employees at UT. We have more than a hundred nationalities on our campus! It is a great experience every day to be part of such a vibrant and diverse community. The added value of internationalisation for our university is beyond doubt.
Having English-language programmes is also highly relevant from a societal point of view. The labour market demands an influx of international talent because we cannot fill all vacancies with Dutch graduates only. This applies particularly to the ICT and engineering domain, where we mainly educate as a technical university. At companies in these sectors, the working language is often English, which requires graduates to become proficient during their studies.
Naturally, we will make every effort in the administrative consultations to ensure that our vision of internationalisation is incorporated into government policy. Meanwhile, it is also important that internally within the university, we make sure we are well prepared for possible measures. This huge task will demand a lot of time and energy from all of us in the coming period. We realise that bearing in mind the already high workload, this will place a considerable claim on all of us. However, it is an issue of great relevance that can, to a large extent, significantly impact the future of the university.