Amsterdam university drops bachelor's degree in Dutch

Students in a lecture
Students in a lecturePhoto: kasto/DepositPhotos

The Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam is dropping its bachelor's degree in Dutch due to a lack of students. The program has been struggling with too few students for years. This year only five new students enrolled, and the degree has five staff members. Spokesperson Wessel Agterhof called it a "loss-making operation", Het Parool reports.

The number of students studying Dutch decreased by 60 percent over the past decade, according to the spokesperson. The degree is no longer viable and the university will therefore stop offering it from the next academic year. "Then the calculation is clear. We unfortunately do not get an annual salary per student from the government, so it costs a lot of money. At some point, stopping is the only option if there is no growth", Agterhof said.

John Koppenhol, professor of older Dutch literature, called this an "extraordinarily regrettable" decision by the university. "We're talking about our mother tongue here", he said to the newspaper. "It is important that we continue to study it, because the mother tongue is also the means to understand our culture."

Those who want to study Dutch can still do so at the University of Amsterdam and at the universities in Leiden, Utrecht, Nijmegen and Groningen. According to newspaper AD, only some 200 students enrolled for the degree nationwide last year. 

Parliamentarians from the left and right side of the political spectrum are calling on Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education to save the degree at Vrije Universiteit. "It is a bad development. This is about our own language. It is inconceivable that we accept that universities decide not ot offer the degree anymore. Until now the Minister refused to intervene, but that has to change", CDA parliamentarian Harry van der Moolen said to AD. 

Universities in the Netherlands are allowed to decide for themselves which courses and degrees they offer. "But if no more Dutch is offered, we are really lost", D66 MP Paul van Meenen said. "With MBO training we also determine from The Hague that there must be sufficient supply of important courses everywhere. Then why not with these kind of important university studies?" According to Van Meenen, universities are too concerned about which study is profitable. "They do not discuss with each other enough if they can cooperate. For example, the University of Amsterdam has already removed language courses that are no longer given anywhere else."

The CDA and D66 believe that more needs to be done to get students interested in studying Dutch, AD reports. "Some time ago mathematics faced the same problem. That number of students has risen again. We don't want for there to be an increasing interest in Dutch but insufficient study places", Van der Moolen said.

GroenLinks PM Zihni Özdil called the Vrije Universiteit's decision "sad", but sees it as a symptom of a larger problem. "This is not the fault of the VU, it is the fault of the Hague policy", he said in a video on Twitter. "Something is wrong with the way in which we finance universities. It shows what the consequences are if we organize education as a sort of product. That we see students as returns, which must be kept as high as possible."

PVV parliamentarian Harm Beertema thinks that "emergency measures" are necessary to prevent more universities following the VU's example. "Because the decline of Dutch students is a problem everywhere. And Dutch is still given at the teacher training, but we need university-trained Dutch experts for that."

The VVD understands the concerns, but sees on reason to panic. "There are still enough cities left where you can study Dutch", VVD parliamentarian Judith Tielen said. "If there are so few students, you as a university can not offer good quality education."