Being a student from Sittard, a town which is a 15-minute trainride away from Maastricht, the English-Medium instruction employed by Maastricht University was a fairly new experience to me. Coming to Maastricht in my first year, it was a suprise that the international community within Maastricht was this extensive. Yet, just as Wilkinson (2013) points out, English-Medium instruction is commonplace in many institutes in countries where English is not the native language, including the Netherlands, perhaps leading to some disconnection.
Two different worlds, or more?
Being born and raised in the region, I have experienced Maastricht and its habits well before I started my studies and my perception always seemed to be that the Maastricht people were warm, welcoming and chauvinistic people: generally, I perceived this as the only possible dimension. However, when I started my studies here in 2016, I entered a new community in which the international students lived in a different world than the local population, seperated from each other. Surprisingly, 53 percent of all Maastricht University students are not Dutch and within this international community, students with a certain nationality form their own ‘culture’, taking away some of the planned international characteristics of the university.
Observing the EMI-system
In the beginning, some time was necessary in order to adjust myself to the EMI, even though I was not experiencing any problems with the English language at all. You therefore might say that you need time to adjust to the system and just the different community in general. Before my studies I already expected that it would take time to integrate within the EMI and to adjust to using English as my new native language. On a different perspective, it became valuable to me to interact with other people in one universal language: ideas can be exchanged in a much faster and efficient way than maintaining a multi-linguistic approach. For example, this piece could also be written in Dutch, even in Limburgs. Yet I chose not to, simply because I want my experience to be accessible for every reader possible and I want my ideas to be shared. It is thus possible to perhaps claim that English is the language of science. The Wilkinson (2013) chapter that I mentioned earlier, reflects on Maastricht University and their reasons to introduce EMI on their schools. Shortly, Wilkinson claims that the reasons to set up an EMI program have a dynamic nature in the case of UM, which has led to some criticism.
However, one of my other expectations was that there would still be a significant presence of a Dutch community, yet in reality this community is much smaller. The Dutch culture is present, although its role within the Maastricht community bubble is subservient to the English one. The verengelsing of the Dutch academic culture is seen as alarming, which might lead to slighting of the Dutch language, as a letter written and supported by loads of Dutch academics argue. This is the domain loss for the native language that Wilkinson touched upon, in this case the Dutch language loses some of its domain in academic Maastricht. But the letter that the Dutch academics have written further proves the point made by Wilkinson that this domain loss is of national concern and not per se of individual institutional concern.
What should be different?
Reading the news that Dutch scholars are concerned with this ‘domain loss’, I was not surprised: in a sense, it is a feeling that I can share as well. Coming to Maastricht in 2016, I was expecting the Dutch language to be dominant, but not massively. After a few weeks though, it became clear to me that at the university, the Dutch language was and is just a minority language within Maastricht University. Instead, within Maastricht University there are some communities of their own: most Germans at UM tend to be around other Germans more often and the French (-speaking) people behave likewise.
In terms of EMI however, I found the UM system to be working in a good manner. Just to reassure, I do not oppose EMI and the split communities within Maastricht: in fact, I think that whenever you implement a system as EMI, chances are that you attract international students. This attractions is, to be fair, just a part of the system and whenever an individual institution, like UM, implements this, it has to be accepted.
To perhaps take away some of the concern proposed by the Dutch academics, it might be good to offer some courses in Dutch as well: these courses might take a look into the more national problems that the Netherlands is facing. Even though a university is allowed to take up action whenever they feel so, it is better to wait what the national parliament has to state on the rising amount of EMI-programs. If the parliament shares the same amount of concern as the group of Dutch academics do, then I am confident that some measures will be taken.