Stop the current language quagmire

Allow mixed use of English and Dutch for University Council meetings

The Tower of Babel by Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1563–65).

The language policy at Leiden University denies international students the opportunity to represent themselves in the co-participation bodies, writes Viktor Blichfeldt.

The Democratic Students Party - The Hague has had an exciting yet demanding start to our first term in the University Council. We got a warm welcome to the Council by our fellow representatives who have given us much needed support and advice that we, as a new student party, greatly appreciate.

We have been working hard on establishing our own internal organization and we have also met our first challenges, especially in the Executive Board’s reluctance to implement a language policy that would permit the first ever international representative on the Council to fully execute their elected mandate.

The DSP was founded and elected to the University Council on a platform of representing Campus The Hague. Our main goals are to get the campus’ facilities up to par with the rest of Leiden University, to take part in planning the future of our campus and, most importantly, to serve the interests of all Leiden University students in The Hague, including the large and growing - yet underrepresented - international segment. So, in short, the DSP wants to take part in building and improving our university and shaping its future. However, now that we are finally here, ready to get to work, we are not able to do so for the simplest of reasons: language.

Let’s make it clear: the DSP does not want to change the administrative language of Leiden University. It is Dutch and it will stay Dutch. What we ask of the university and its Executive Board is that it makes the co-participation bodies, such as the University Council, equally accessible to all students, no matter where they are from.

According to the university’s annual report from 2017, around 18 percent of all bachelor students and 29 percent of all master students are internationals and this number is only going to increase. Yet, the current language policy and the Executive Board’s interpretation of it denies international students the opportunity to actively participate in the co-participation bodies.

Demanding a passive knowledge of Dutch at a B1 level to be able to participate in the Councils is an exclusionary criteria. For most non-Dutch speaking students, learning Dutch through the university’s Academic Language Center would take over a year and cost at least €1260 to reach this level.

To add insult to injury, there are currently only two Dutch courses offered in The Hague and only to an A1 level. The Executive Board must see that this will undoubtedly discourage and prevent non-Dutch speaking students from actively participating in the co-participation bodies on equal terms with the Dutch speaking students.
Inclusivity and diversity are supposed to be core values of Leiden University, and internationalisation a key ambition. To quote the university’s own Institutional Plan for the period 2015-2020: ‘Leiden University is an open community where all those who wish to contribute to its ambitions and to everything that it stands for will feel at home and have equal opportunities.’

Discouraging international students from actively participating in the democratic process of our university is an obstruction of these supposed equal opportunities and a clear rejection by the Executive Board of the aforementioned values and ambitions.

Thankfully, the DSP is not alone in condemning these restrictive policies. The University Council has unanimously addressed the Executive Board in a letter, expressing its dissatisfaction with the hard line the Board has taken towards international members of the Council. Together we express our support for the international community at Leiden University and offer alternative solutions. Hopefully, this will be the start of a positive change in policy.
However, if the Executive Board continues to follow their hard line, the DSP will introduce a memorandum regarding the language policy at Leiden University to the University Council. We have already identified seven concrete solutions to the current language quagmire.

The solutions we offer partly echo those outlined in the Council’s letter, such as the need for simultaneous translation during certain meetings and the possibility of a mixed use of English and Dutch in other meetings.
We would furthermore ask that the university makes its Dutch courses more accessible and substantially more affordable, and that they increase the promotion of them to both prospective and current students. This would mean that those who aspire to learn Dutch have a better opportunity to do so. We hope that with this, the Executive Board will also realize that a change in policy is needed, which will not only benefit international staff and students, but Leiden University as a whole.

That being said, the DSP and the students of Campus The Hague are proud to be a part of the historic and renowned institution that is Leiden University. We came from all over the Netherlands and from over 90 nations to start our academic career here with the backing of Leiden University’s distinguished traditions within academia - traditions rooted in history, yet looking to the future. In that regard, Campus The Hague is a core part of Leiden University’s vision for the future and we, the students of this campus, must be allowed the equal opportunity to help implement this vision.

Viktor Blichfeldt, University Council student representative and President of the Democratic Student Party -
The Hague

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