Research summary: Language and culture policy at a Dutch university

Haines, K., & Dijk, A. (2016). Translating language policy into practice: Language and culture policy at a Dutch university. CercleS, 6(2), 355–376.

Aim: To show how the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for establishing proficiency in different languages can be embedded in a meaningful way in university language policy and extended with multilingual and multicultural competences

Data & methods: Descriptive report of the development of a language policy in the context of internationalisation at the University of Groningen. Focus on the perspective of the Language Centre; on the formal as well as ‘informal’ curriculum, and on academic and support staff as well as students


  • The International Classroom (IC) project 2014–2020 is underway, which ’causes teachers to reconsider their approaches to teaching and provides fresh impetus for them to develop as professionals’
  • Case studies/pilots of different ICs have been conducted, identifying existing good practices
  • Drawing on the results of the pilots an institution-wide language policy has been developed: the Language and Culture (L&C) policy, ‘with a dual language focus on English and Dutch, while also recognizing the inter-relation between linguistic and intercultural skills’.
  • The L&C policy is necessary because ‘the change of the language of instruction from Dutch to English produces uncertainty [which] extends throughout the organization’
  • The L&C policy helps to define the language needs of all university stakeholders and provide a framework for the provision of support
  • The focus on culture as well as language is important because diversity among staff and students means account also needs to be taken of ‘the culturally-embedded and value-laden nature of activities in the university, for instance … the ways in which knowledge is created’. In other words, given the complex processes involved, more support is needed than just ensuring a individual’s English-language proficiency is up to scratch
  • In particular, international students and staff needed to be supported in acquiring Dutch language skills. Students can access free Dutch classes and staff have the opportunity to follow Dutch courses too
  • The Language Centre supports lecturers by ‘recording lectures and giving detailed feedback’ on the basis of the CEFR. Under the new L&C policy, this (along with the development of multicultural competences) can be embedded structurally in the University Teaching Qualification (UTQ, the professional development programme for teaching staff)
  • Groningen participated in the MAGICC project, which adds multilingual and multicultural competences to the CEFR


  • ‘The International Classroom project highlights the value of the increasing diversity in the university as a resource that can be tapped into at the levels of classroom, programme and organization, and draws attention to the need to have a clear understanding of the implications for the use of languages, in our case English and Dutch in particular’
  • The L&C policy has been extended to the entire university, not just English-medium study programmes, and is now in the implementation stage
  • ‘Our ambition is to establish the L&C policy as a reality experienced by stakeholders across the university’, for which financial support is available
  • It’s important to ground implementation in ‘established and recognized frameworks of reference, such as the CEFR and the UTQ’, which university stakeholders are already familiar with
  • Next steps: each faculty needs to define its specific needs in relation to the L&C policy. The Language Centre can assist with this (although its expertise ‘is often overlooked’)

Reader tips: which paper on English in Dutch higher education should I summarise next? Leave a comment!






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