Internationals fear obligation to learn Dutch.

Hanze is considering requiring international bachelor students to learn Dutch. ‘I am already hearing from students that they are considering not coming.’

The Hanze wants to improve the Dutch language skills of international students. This is not unique. All institutes for higher education in the Netherlands are working on measures that anticipate the introduction of the Wet Internationalisering in Balans (that is: Finding Balance in Internationalisation Act), a series of regulations on which the Dutch parliament will soon decide.

Making the Netherlands less popular for internationals

Vereniging Hogescholen (the Dutch Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, VH) is working on a language course to help internationals integrate in Dutch society, which is a dear wish of many political parties. To put it more bluntly one could also say that some of these parties want the Netherlands to become a less popular destination for international students and demanding them to learn Dutch is a way to achieve that objective.
In the VH course internationals will be taught the basics of Dutch language. The Hanze wants to go a step further. In a press release dated 15 March, Hanze UAS states that it ‘has the ambition to make basic Dutch language skills compulsory in the first years of the bachelor’s programme’.
In the same press release Hanze mentions that their policy is to keep the number of international students stable (Hanze only wants to recruit students from abroad for programmes in sectors with labour market shortages, such as engineering).

Eugenia thinks every student would do well to learn Dutch… voluntarily

This obligation to learn Dutch is a bad idea, Eugenia Bocancia (21) thinks, a student of International Business at Hanze. ‘I would panic if that were a requirement to start your studies.’ The student from Ukraine has been living in Groningen for almost three years now. Her Dutch definitely could be better, she admits, but that does not lead to problems. ‘Many people at school and in the city speak English.’

Eugenia has taken on the Dutch language course her school offers on her own initative. ‘If I speak the language better, my options in the job market will increase. A good command of Dutch also gives me more opportunities socially, because I understand that not everyone always wants to speak English.’ Eugenia thinks every student would do well to learn Dutch, but, she stresses, only if they want to.

A compulsory crash course in integration would not help

How the Hanze intends to impose the basics of the Dutch language on its students is not yet clear, it declares when asked. Yet, one might assume it would involve a test or obtaining a certificate. Joep de Wild (20), commissioner of public relations of the Groningen branch of the Student Association for International Relations (SIB-Groningen), fears this will put off many students. He is already hearing from foreign students that they have considered not coming to Groningen because of the political discussion about stricter requirements for international students. ‘A compulsory crash course in integration would not help in this regard.’

At SIB-Groningen, English is the lingua franca. For many students from abroad, this is a low-threshold way to participate in Groningen student life. The association considered organising more activities in Dutch, but decided against it. ‘We are afraid that international students will stay away’, says Joep.

Language is the best way to learn new cultures

Not everyone thinks Hanze’s ambition is a bad idea. Carla Vosloo (22) from South Africa, who, just like Eugenia, is studying International Business, thinks making the Dutch language compulsory isn’t that strange. ‘Some people might start doubting whether they want to study here then, but I think that as an international student you should actually be open to learning about your new culture. And what better way than learning the language?’

Students who want to work in the north after their studies will soon have the chance to take additional Dutch language courses. A good idea, Carla thinks, because learning the basics is useful for every foreign student. ‘Not only to enter into conversations with Dutch people more easily, but also just to be able to arrange stuff, like making an appointment at the dentist’s.’ Eugenia also sees great potential in a course which suits students who want to stay. Right now, however, her priority is learning Dutch jargon. ‘When you talk Dutch with your friends, it’s still different from what you would use in a work environment. You use different vocabulary.’

Joep doubts whether a better command of the Dutch language will really lead to more foreign students settling in Groningen after their studies. He sees many SIB students leave Groningen after completing their studies. ‘Many of our members study international law or something along those lines. The best market for them is Brussels.’ Carla and Eugenia also think that other factors, such as job opportunities, weigh more heavily in international students’ decision to stay in the region.