University of Groningen closes gateway to the North
The Department of Scandinavian Languages and Cultures at the University of Groningen, where the languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are taught, is regarded as a centre of expertise by ministries, cultural institutes and colleagues in the Scandinavian countries. The department has a major international reputation and in the northern region of the Netherlands it plays the role of ‘gateway to the North’. At the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) the department has an excellent reputation. Various research projects are financed by the NWO, and staff members are regularly asked to sit on assessment committees and write expert rapports. With limited resources (1.4 FTE earmarked for research) the department has produced five doctorates since 2010, and another nine will follow in the next three years. The department is ‘a golden goose that generates a huge output with very limited resources’, as one foreign colleague put it.
Nevertheless, the University of Groningen has chosen to drop Norwegian and Danish from its teaching programme, a decision that could have severe consequences for the field of Scandinavian studies, robbing coming generations of their future. The decision, when it comes into effect, will also affect the job market. The department has produced excellent translators – in the northern region of the Netherlands many translation agencies employ former students. A big publishing house like De Geus publishes translations of works by Scandinavian authors, which are almost exclusively translated by Groningen graduates.
Other strong points, which have given the department its excellent reputation, are: the inter-Scandinavian perspective in research and teaching (the department was the first to introduce into the MA programme an inter-Scandinavian profile, which was subsequently adopted in the Scandinavian countries); ERASMUS students who, thanks to their excellent language skills, are held in high regard in Scandinavia; and the many symposia organised with partners from within and outside the university, including the Groninger Museum and the Scandinavian embassies. The department has received many grants for the promotion of Scandinavian culture in the Netherlands from Scandinavian companies and organisations, such as the Nordic Council. And of course staff members are regularly approached by the press for information about Scandinavia.
What is being gained from these cuts? Very little. The faculty will save 0.4 FTE in teaching staff establishment – slightly less than half a full-time job, but will lose a centre of expertise of high standing with a huge output. As of September 2012 that expertise was incorporated in the new BA programme European Languages and Cultures. Danish and Norwegian, alongside Swedish, are a vital part of this programme and indispensable for the Scandinavian perspective: the historical Groningen gateway to the North.
On behalf of the Department of Scandinavian Languages and Cultures, University of Groningen,
Hinka Alkema, Petra Broomans, Charlotte Gooskens, Janke Klok and Muriel Norde