VUB and EhB sign charter for Multilingualism and Linguistic Diversity

Higher education institutions underline their commitment to a language policy tailored to Brussels students

Tuesday 20 February - The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Erasmus Brussels University of Applied Sciences and Arts (EhB) have signed a Charter for Multilingualism and Linguistic Diversity. This joint step confirms the commitment of both higher education institutions to an inclusive language policy that promotes knowledge of academic Dutch and other languages at a high level, with a particular focus on the Brussels context. Both VUB and EhB believe that multilingualism is a necessary skill for students in the 21st century.

Multilingualism is the norm in the daily life of Brussels students. At the VUB, a quarter of students are international, and every second student grows up in a multilingual home environment. At the EhB, about 30% of students speak another language besides Dutch, while approximately 30% never speak Dutch at home.

This diversity of linguistic backgrounds, combined with other factors such as a migrant background and a more challenging socio-economic starting position, poses additional learning and social challenges that affect academic performance. At the same time, the labour market is in need of multilingual professionals who can navigate smoothly between different languages and cultures.

"As an urban engaged university, the VUB emphasises its Dutch-speaking character, but it also embraces and values the intrinsic and rich multilingual reality of Brussels society and the academic community," says VUB rector Jan Danckaert. "The two go together and are necessary skills for students of the 21st century, as in a diverse society, we need future leaders from diverse backgrounds who can find innovative solutions to tomorrow’s challenges."
"Multilingualism is an integral part of our metropolitan context," says Dennis Cluydts, director general of the EhB. "Since most students do not speak Dutch at home or speak other languages besides Dutch, it makes sense to explore how we can use home languages in a powerful way rather than dismissing them as a threat. Monolingual students also benefit from a learning environment that takes into account different linguistic and cultural perspectives."

From tutor to Language Barometer

To provide students with equal educational opportunities and to equip them with the necessary language skills to smoothly enter the labour market, the VUB and the EhB pursue an inclusive educational policy that focuses on multilingualism and linguistic diversity. Through various initiatives, they provide students with tailor-made language support throughout their studies, integrate multilingualism into their curricula, and conduct research on multilingualism to apply this scientific knowledge and best practice to their own education.

"The VUB consciously invests in a language policy that promotes academic knowledge of Dutch and other languages at a high level," says Wim Vandenbussche, professor of Dutch linguistics and expert in multilingualism at the VUB. "This ranges from individual tutoring in writing academic texts in Dutch to organising foreign language courses tailored to specific programmes, such as legal French for the Law programme. We also actively research the subject. For instance, the VUB has monitored language development in Brussels and its periphery for over 20 years and publishes the leading study on the subject, the Language Barometer, every four years. Multilingualism is not harmful to the development of the Dutch language. On the contrary, it equips students with the necessary skills to embrace their multilingual home environment and valorise it in the labour market. All languages are equally valuable in this respect."
"In our teacher training programme for primary education, we intensively prepare students to teach in the multilingual educational context of Brussels and its periphery," says Anouk Vanherf, Dutch teacher and researcher at the EhB. "To this end, the programme has been working with the French-speaking Haute école Francisco Ferrer for years. With this project, we translate scientific insights about multilingualism into classroom practice. We also valorise the multilingual background of our own students, as their language skills and experience are valuable for multilingual learners."
"We are strongly committed to Dutch language support, including in cooperation with the Flemish Community Commission[1] ," says Sarah Van Bulck, language policy advisor at EhB. "We offer young people an empowering story: ’We see that you still have room to grow in your Dutch language skills, but we also know that your broad knowledge of languages is an asset for your future job.’ We are also committed to an inclusive learning environment in other ways, including in our Organisation & Management programme, which exempts students from the fourth foreign language course if they can demonstrate proficiency in another language. With this inclusive multilingual policy, we want to counterbalance the current polarisation around home languages. We show that fostering Dutch and other languages can go hand in hand."

By signing the charter, the two Brussels institutions are consolidating the space for various multilingualism and linguistic diversity initiatives.

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig - The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People , because that’s what it’s all’about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership , VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré , the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ’urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.­eftjenodig