Robert Visscher. The Netherlands is to lose 30 small courses in the humanities in their current form, including the only Portuguese programme in the country, because of budget cuts and government requests for universities to focus on specific geographic areas or sets of languages.
All universities have been hit by cuts in government funding and as a result several have cancelled small and expensive courses in the humanities. Some will become part of a broader bachelor programme; many will be dropped altogether. Portuguese will vanish as a single degree following Utrecht University’s announcement of the decision to close the course in 2014. The dean of the faculty of humanities, Wiljan van den Akker, said that last year only three students had enrolled in the Portuguese programme.
“We have to invest €100,000 in this programme to keep it running. At the same time we have to deal with budget cuts of €4 million (US$5.3 million) on an annual base,” he said. “It was a very hard decision to make.”
It is, however, still possible to study the language as part of the programme of Latin America studies at Leiden University.
“The Netherlands has always had a world-class reputation for its language courses,” said Paulo de Medeiros, professor of Portuguese at Utrecht University. “I’m afraid this will now change because of the budget cuts. It is very sad that they took this measure. So far the university has received dozens of letters from within and outside of the country not to cancel the course.”
Not all the 30 small programmes that are cancelled will disappear completely. Most of them will become part of a broader bachelor programme. The University of Groningen will bring 12 language studies, such as Hungarian and German, together into the new European languages and cultures programme.
“One can no longer obtain a bachelor degree in German, but within the broad bachelor programme it is still possible to study the German language,” said Anneke Kok, spokesperson for the university.
It is a current trend in The Netherlands to set up broad programmes to combine small studies. Leiden, for example, is also bringing French, German and Italian into one course. The VU University Amsterdam will put 13 languages together in four bachelor programmes. One reason for the broad programmes is budget cuts. The humanities faculty at Groningen, for example, has to save €2.5 million. In the past the government made extra finances available for small studies, but this is no longer the case.
Another reason is that universities stress that students would like to follow broad programmes. “They want an interdisciplinary approach and not only to focus on one subject alone,” says Kok. Fewer than one in 10 Dutch students currently enrol in small programmes with fewer than 50 students, representing 59 out of 432 bachelors courses. Of those courses, 90% are within the faculty of humanities. The government is also asking universities to focus, for example, on a specific region or set of languages.
“By doing so the quality of our higher education will be improved,” according to Under-secretary of Education Halbe Zijlstra. “Profiling could mean universities will decide to no longer offer certain programmes.”