Van Splunder, F. (2015). A tale of two countries: Diverging policies on English-medium instruction in the Netherlands and Flanders. In Wilkinson, R. & Walsh, M. L. (eds), Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education: From Theory to Practice, pp. 89–98. Peter Lang.
Aim: To investigate language management in the Netherlands and Flanders at the political, institutional and personal level
Data & methods: analysis of language policy documents and interviews with 20 Dutch and Flemish university lecturers
- While both Flemish and Dutch legislation stresses the importance of Dutch as the medium of instruction for higher education, there are marked differences between Flanders and the Netherlands in their ideologies and discourses surrounding English-medium instruction and in their actual practice of it.
- English-medium instruction enjoys a level of political support in the Netherlands that it does not in Flanders, which is more protectionist.
- In Flanders, no more than 30 credits (18.33%) of the undergraduate curricula may be taught in a language other than Dutch; this is 50% for master’s level (although there are exceptions). Due to these legal restrictions the number of English-medium programmes in Flanders remains low.
- Lecturers in Flanders who will teach in a language other than their native language are required to take a language test and the required minimum level is C1 of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages); Flanders may be the only region in Europe with such a requirement.
- The differences in approach between Flanders and the Netherlands are in spite of the shared Dutch Language Union (NTU) established to discuss issues around language and literacy, and potentially harmonise language policy. In the NTU language policy is drawn up by the education ministers of the Netherlands and Flanders; oversight is provided by an interparliamentary committee of Dutch and Flemish MPs.
- The reason given for the discrepancy in the Flemish and Dutch approach is the political and historical language struggle undergone in Flanders vis-à-vis French: as one lecturer said “It’s less than 100 years ago Flanders had to fight for education in Dutch and now were abolishing it again”. By contrast, “In the Netherlands, where the use of Dutch has been self-evident since the 17th century, language and identity have never been as controversial as in Flanders”, although with the recent increase in English EMI, voices of concern have been raised.
- There is an age effect in Flanders: younger lecturers seem to be more in favour of English-medium instruction than older ones.
- A balance will need to be found between protecting Dutch, introducing English as the language international academia, and catering for other languages in an increasingly multilingual and multicultural society
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