British students go abroad to study more and more often nowadays. Especially popular for them is Holland, but there is a major trouble showing up lately.
According to the Dutch students’ union, about 57% feel distracted from the studies because of the poor knowledge of English local lecturers have.
The chairman of the LSVb, Stefan Wirken says that although the number and variety of study programmes in English is growing, the language skills of the lecturers isn’t. The country was always proud of its skills in English, even though now some people joke about typical mistakes, calling them “Denglish”. The number of British students is still growing, and in 5 years till 2014 it became three times bigger — about 1,980 students from Britain are studying in Holland now.
There are 2,100 English programmes in the universities around the country. According to the data from EP-Nuffic, most of them are held on the Continent, promoting internationalisation in the field of studying. Dutch institutions consistently rank highly in international league tables.
Many universities are reporting their highest ever numbers of British students: Amsterdam University has 339, Groningen 240 and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) 182. Maastricht University has the most, operating primarily in English and with 371 Britons. EU students typically pay about £1,400 a year for tuition and may qualify for Dutch government loans.
But the LSVb has been lobbying the Dutch government to reconsider whether courses should be taught in English and increase English-language training for teachers if they are. Its survey — which quotes students criticising such things as teachers’ “heavy accent” — was conducted in Dutch and based on students at polytechnic institutions (22%) and those taking BA and master’s degrees at universities.
Although British students interviewed by The Sunday Times report a positive experience of studying in Holland, they agree that a poor command of English can present challenges.
Beth Lloyd, 24, from Cardiff and a second-year psychology student at EUR, says: “My year was the first international course they had done at Erasmus, so we were guinea pigs and the course books were all translated for us, sometimes really badly. The exams were sometimes confusing with the way they phrased the questions. But they are so accepting of feedback and trying to fix it.
“Studying in Holland gave me the opportunity to make friends from various cultural backgrounds. The big positive was financial: it is much cheaper here.”
Jonah Thompson, 20, from Midhurst, West Sussex, is studying international European law at Groningen. He is very satisfied with his teachers. “Maybe once a year there is a seminar or one traditional Dutch lecturer that could be better, but I don’t think a responsible university has lecturers that don’t speak English,” he says.
Alex Gibson, 22, from Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, is studying for a conflict resolution and governance MSc at Amsterdam, and completely disagrees with the survey.
He says: “My course convenor who conducts most of my classes is an American MIT alumnus, so the quality of teaching is extremely high. Teachers are not necessarily Dutch anyway, but all teachers I have come across have had a completely fluent grasp of English.”
Dutch universities are trying to ensure lecturers’ English standards are high. EUR requires them to have the high C1 European level, and offer “teaching in English” courses as part of its basic teaching qualification.
Maastricht tests the English level of its new teaching recruits and has developed a programme to test and train longer-term employees in English.
EP-Nuffic says: “We do recognise the observations that Dutch teachers speak English that isn’t good or without accent . . . but it is mostly Dutch students who are complaining about it here and not so much international students.”
One academic at Amsterdam, asking not to be named, says the survey rings true: “Most teachers’ English is not good enough to teach. I have heard about the terrible lectures in English given by some of my colleagues, which is, to be honest, no surprise to me.”
Chris Ramsey, head of The King’s School, Chester, and university spokesman for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said: “Studying abroad is an increasingly attractive option. The most important thing is for students to do their homework and approach their choices with an open mind. Then they can enjoy any language differences without it becoming a problem.”