Dutch degree more popular abroad than in the Netherlands

Dutch degree more popular abroad than in the Netherlands

According to figures from DUO and Taalunie, studying Dutch as a degree in the Netherlands is becoming less and less popular, with just 700 students studying the bachelor’s degree last year throughout the country. However, studying Dutch is becoming ever more prominent outside the Netherlands, with an estimate of 14.000 students studying a Dutch programme at university.

Dutch study under threat

Interest in studying Dutch at one of the universities in the Netherlands has dropped considerably in the last few years and it continues to fall. In fact, national enrolment numbers have decreased by 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to figures from the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

Last year, only 222 students in the Netherlands chose to study Dutch. And this year, a meagre 54 first-year students enrolled to study Dutch at the University of Amsterdam. That is 50 percent less than five years ago.

At the Vrije University Amsterdam (VU) only six first-year students signed up for the degree programme. “Now we have to decide: are we going to go ahead with the programme or not”, Head of the Language, Literature and Communication department at the VU, Diederik Oostdijk, remarks.

With six staff members to six students, the degree programme no longer corresponds to the VU’s economic model. Oostdijk fears that this will therefore be the end for the degree. He also iterates that Dutch identity and solidarity are at stake if the Dutch degree programme disappears, as “Language is what connects us, it is part of the Dutch identity.”

Dutch popular abroad

Despite the decrease in popularity of studying Dutch as a degree in the Netherlands, abroad interest in the programme is stable and even increasing in some places, so states Hans Bennis, general secretary at Taalunie and endowed professor of language variation at the University of Amsterdam.

Dutch is particularly popular in Poland, as this generates jobs. “Dutch businesses wanting to do business there like it if they can do so in their own languages”, Bennis says. Bennis also gives the US as an example of where Dutch is popular. In that case, it is due to the interest in 17th-century Dutch art, whereby students also learn the language.

A point to keep in mind when looking at how many students outside of the Netherlands study Dutch, is that not all students study full-time and, for some, Dutch may be one of the main subjects, whilst for others, it may just be an elective. The Taalunie’s estimate also only applies to countries where Dutch is not an official language, Belgium and Suriname are therefore not considered in the figures.

Why is Dutch not popular in the Netherlands?

According to Oostdijk, the waning interest in Dutch is due to, amongst other reasons, the growing number of English-taught degrees. It is also possible that the increasing popularity of technical programmes and the growing number of international students has had an effect.

Another reason, one which universities point out, is the way in which Dutch is taught at secondary schools in the Netherlands. Supposedly, Dutch lessons at secondary schools focus too much on competencies and too little on literature.

In the Netherlands, the degree programmes with the highest enrolment figures are law, psychology, medicine, economics and business economics and business administration. Language and culture programmes, such as Celtic languages and culture, fall under those with the least enrolments.

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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