International

Months on the waiting list

Dutch lessons as bait

The RUG promotes itself by offering a free Dutch course. The course is so popular that the waiting list is endless. Is this good marketing?
By Eva van Renssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Hungarian student Andrea Kis was super keen to learn Dutch while she was studying in Groningen. ‘I saw that international students were eligible for free Dutch classes through the university’, the environmental psychology master student says. ‘It sounded great. It’s part of what convinced me to come to Groningen.’

But her enthusiasm has waned. A lot of people feel similarly let down. The waiting list at the Language Centre is already one hundred students long, and it’s only getting longer.

‘I’ve been on the waiting list for free lessons five times now’, says international business student Dominika Osicka. She’s despondent: ‘I’m just gonna give up.’

Three years

‘It took three years before I could take the beginner’s course for A1 Dutch’, says Isobel Stewart, a chemistry student, indignantly. ‘The courses that I could fit into my schedule were already full by the time I opened the newsletter that announced registration was open.’

‘I kept trying to get in during the first two blocks of the semester’, sighs Pamela Moera, and arts, culture, and media student. ‘I had to get people to send me a link to the exact website because it’s so hard to find.’ Registration opened while she was in class. When she signed on to register two hours later, the course was full. She heard whispers that the course was fairly difficult. So ‘I realised that learning Dutch just wasn’t worth all this stress.’

We’ve reached our limit

Berna de Boer – Language Centre

The Language Centre acknowledges the issue. ‘We’ve reached our limit, both in terms of teachers and of rooms’, says Berna de Boer with the centre.

Frustrating

Students are angered by the lack of proper information about registering. Andrea expected the RUG to provide information on the courses. ‘My own university sends updates about language courses all the time, especially to international students.’ But the information packet distributed by the RUG didn’t mention it at all.

Andrea ended up on the Language Centre website by complete chance, only to read that all the fall courses were full up. ‘I was so disappointed. The courses later in the year won’t help me either, because I’m doing a one-year master programme.’ She was also too late to register for the February courses. ‘It was frustrating.’

De Boer says the Language Centre does a lot to make itself visible. ‘We’re at all the information markets and our website is very neat.’ On top of that: ‘Clearly a lot of students do know how to find us: when we open for registration, the courses fill up immediately. We can’t be that hard to find.’ Students can also sign up for the Language Centre’s newsletter through the website. ‘That’s actually the best chance to get in.’

Scheduling issues

It took Maiara Kolbe Musskopf, who started a master in medical and pharmaceutical drug innovation this academic year, a lot of sleuthing before she found out all the courses were fully booked. But after six months, she finally grabbed a slot. ‘I’m really happy! The course is great, even if you have to do a lot of work to find it.’

She is having scheduling issues, though: ‘I’m doing an internship during the day, and my language course is from 1 to 3 pm. Fortunately that’s during lunch and my internship supervisor doesn’t mind me going.’ One of her colleagues is less fortunate: ‘Their lessons are from 3 to 5 pm. That’s like half the day!’
While the Language Centre tries to make lesson times convenient for students, they still run into issues. ‘Almost 75 percent of the work that we do is in the evening’, says De Boer. ‘People can only teach two classes every night and we can’t expect them to work four nights a week.’

Marketing

The RUG was the first university to offer free Dutch courses, starting back in 2013. Their primary goal was to make university-educated people feel more connected to the Netherlands so they would stay after they’d graduated.

The language course is important for marketing

RUG Language and Culture Policy

The free course also makes the RUG more attractive to international students, according to the RUG Language and Culture Policy, ‘since it’s important for marketing, integration, and relationships’.

But the university council recently wondered if the long waiting list poses a risk of bad marketing. But according to the board of directors, ‘Everyone runs the risk of not being able to participate because the classes are at capacity. We can’t prevent that.’ In other words: so be it.

More money

RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker takes the waiting list to be a good sign. ‘I’m glad people are so interested. We’ll gradually have to start providing more classes. But the RUG is providing a free course in Dutch. That’s great, isn’t it?’

Last year, the course budget was increased from 450,000 euro to 550,000. There are three hundred more students taking the February course this year than last year.

‘We’ve already made more course groups’, says De Boer. ‘We’ve also increased the size of the classes from sixteen to eighteen students.’ She hopes to find new teachers as well. But students who missed the boat earlier are no longer put at the top of the waiting list. ‘The secretary’s office just couldn’t keep up.’

Proud

While De Boer is sympathetic to the plight of disappointed students, she can’t help but be proud as well: ‘It’s great that so many people are interested in learning Dutch, and that we can provide the courses for free.’ She also emphasises that learning Dutch doesn’t only happen in the classroom, but in real life as well. ‘That’s why we organise the Café de las Lenguas at the Harmony building every week. It’s a really fun way to practise your Dutch.’

Andrea feels the whole discussion is symptomatic of a bigger issue: ‘I’ve only been here for a while, but a lot of internationals have told me about how they feel excluded.’

Bakker says that the idea that students are being excluded is nonsense. ‘The RUG is all inclusive. All our communication is bilingual. And we provide free Dutch courses!’

Nederlands