English-medium instruction at a Dutch university: challenges and pitfalls*

It is nearly a quarter of a century since Maastricht University started to offer a first-degree programme taught through the medium of English. The success of the small programme led to many other programmes in English, and by 2000 the innovative faculty concerned decided to cease providing training in Dutch and become an English-medium faculty.
Success in what is now the School of Business and Economics led other Maastricht faculties and other Dutch universities to emulate it, such that today all Dutch universities offer a large number of programmes through English, not just at the Master’s, but also at Bachelor’s level. However, the rise of English-medium instruction has not been without its critics, often from within the programmes themselves. The advance of English as the language of instruction has led to discussions of domain loss for Dutch. In the EMI programmes themselves, the focus has been on how to ensure quality, especially when both the teaching staff and students are using English as a second language.

Using the experiences of Maastricht University as example, this paper focuses on the diverse and fluid reasons for introducing English-medium instruction, and the challenges of domain loss. The paper considers issues of curriculum and course design, the practices of collaboration between the academic staff in the disciplines and English support staff, and the efforts to assure quality. I reflect on the issues raised, through a prism of economics, sociology and politics, in considering their future impact.

* Wilkinson, R. (2013). English-medium instruction at a Dutch university: challenges and pitfalls. In A. Doiz, D. Lasagabaster, & J.M. Sierra, (Eds.), English-Medium Instruction at Universities: Global Challenges (pp. 3-24). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

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