Universiteit Leiden

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To anglicise or not to anglicise?

This variation on Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ is exercising the emotions of the academic world in the Netherlands. Leiden's Vice-Rector, professors and students explain their viewpoints in the alumni magazine Leidraad.

‘Leiden has a balanced view in terms of teaching in English,' Vice-Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl says. 'We are not among the front-runners in the Netherlands. Our master's programmes are in English and our bachelor's are in Dutch - unless there is a good reason for doing otherwise.' 

This means that bachelor's are offered in English if there is an international aspect to the professional field, as with International Studies or Urban Studies. A good reason for teaching a master's in Dutch is that it is a specifically Dutch subject, such as Dutch Studies or Dutch Law. 

Bijl comments, 'As a broad, historical university with important specialist fields in the  Dutch language, we will never completely anglicise.'  

The world is becoming more international, and borders are disappearing. English is the common language and in particular it is the language of science. Bijl: ‘As an international research university, it is our business to teach science, so it is logical that our teaching has a significant English component.' 

Furthermore, the Dutch academic world is changing rapidly, Bijl comments. 'More and more international teachers are working here, who mostly teach in  English. For the present generation of students, English is part of teveryday life, while for earlier generations this was not the case. Moreover, it has become more important to have a good command of the language. Students today have more opportunities to do part of their programme abroad. This also means that many international students choose to study in the Netherlands.'  


These international students come in large numbers to Leiden and other Dutch universities. In comparison with other countries, tuition fees in the Netherlands are very reasonable and the level of the programmes is high. Some programmes are so popular among international students that Dutch students may have difficulty gaining a place. 

This is something that Leiden is also struggling with, as Bijl says, ‘In the master's, previous education and admission tests are a selection tool, but with the bachelor's we have little opportunity to manage admissions.' For the time being we don't have a solution, but 'this is, of course, something that we want to discuss with the ministry.' 

The general assumption is that universities earn a lot of money from international admissions. That's not quite the case, according to Bijl. Government funding is based on a university's market share, not on the number of students (see box).   'Because the total available budget remains the same, universities are now starting to question how hard they should strive for further growth. For Leiden, our key concern is the quality of our education, not the number of students.' 


Would you like to know what students, staff and alumni of Leiden University think about this issue? If so, you can read their reactions in the online version of our alumni magazine Leidraad.

Text: Annette Zeelenberg
Image: Chris Gorzeman, Capital Images

The principles that apply at Leiden University

  • In principle, bachelor's programmes are taught in Dutch and master's are taught in English.
  • A bachelor's programme can be offered in English if this is appropriate for the nature or structure of the programme (art. 7.2 WHW). This currently applies to 13 of the 46 bachelor's programmes.
  • 80 of the 83 master's programmes are in English. Only the programmes Dutch Linguistics, Dutch Studies and Notary Law are exceptions. 
  • Leiden University aims to provide as much information as possible in both languages. 
  • Lecturers in English-language programmes have a minimum of C1 level English. 
  • Dutch-taught programmes have to have sufficient  English-language subjects for both international exchange students and Dutch-language students. 
  • Students and staff can take extra language couses in both English and Dutch. 
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