Monthly Archives: April 2012

Use of Arabic at Schools in Qatar Deemed Inadequate

Article from The Peninsula Qatar, April 29, 2012:

Ninety percent of respondents to an online survey by the Al Sharq reveal that Arabic language is not adequately used at public institutions, schools and universities for communication and transactions.

Also 85 percent of the respondents say the institutions have failed to adopt Arabic as the official language, while another 90 percent have said organisations don’t use Arabic for communication.

Hence, many academics, intellectuals and nationals have called on the officials to issue a government decision to make Arabic language compulsory in different official procedures. They also worry that wide use of a foreign language; especially English among youth could make an adverse influence in the community. And have sited that prevalence of expatriates has been an influence for the high use of English.

Dr Fatma Al Suweidi said, “Arabic language is the language of the Holy Quran, therefore it will not disappear, but not using it will make an impact. Many young people ignore Arabic and use English. Also since the labour market has expanded and due to the development of new technology English is mostly used at the expense of Arabic.”   

She also says that since many use English more than Arabic as it could increase the opportunity of getting a job.  Academics also stress that the need to learn and become proficient in Arabic should be focused among students from their young age.

Nazmi Al Jamal, Professor of Arabic said: “Children should be taught and made understood about the necessity of becoming fluent in Arabic from kindergarten to university.”

“In any country people are proud of their language. But sadly in the GCC countries people are more dedicated to English, especially as a language of communication. There should be a procedure adopted to control the spread of English as a communication language in the region,” he further said.

Dr Zakia Malalah, a poet said: “Now a days many young people are unable to communicate in Arabic without mixing English words. Even places like pharmacies, banks and hospitals use only English and not Arabic.”

Salman Al Suleiti, another writer and educator said: “Many students who graduate from high school are not able to handle Arabic language.”  

Fahad Saied Al Marrie, a Qatari, blamed parents for not encouraging their children’s interest in Arabic language.  

However, some respondents to the survey have also said that English is essential certain areas as technology and medicine but Arabic speaking staff should be recruited.


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Students in Gaza to learn Hebrew

Just saw this in the Washington Post, April 23, 2012:

A senior Hamas official in Gaza says the territory’s militant rulers intend to begin teaching Hebrew for high school students beginning next year.

Ziad Thabet, the education ministry undersecretary, said Monday the government is trying to find and train teachers. He says students should be introduced to as many languages as possible.

Hebrew, the chief language of Israelis, is now only offered as a university course.

Thabet says the Gaza government still needs to approve the decision, but it is likely to go ahead.

Many Palestinians see Hebrew as the language of the enemy. However, Hebrew used to be widely spoken in Gaza, particularly by those who worked in Israel before it started a decade ago to block laborers from entry amid escalating violence.



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Chapel Hill Elementary Schools Move Ahead with Chinese Language Instruction

Here’s one positive sign at least:

Article by Rebeca Logan and Tim Walker, NEAToday, April 16, 2012:

At a recent Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meeting in North Carolina, a group of very vocal parents showed up to express their support for the district’s Chinese language learning program. The district had just released a report recommending elimination of the program due to – what else? – budget cuts. One year ago, the board actually doubled the size of the program, so to parents like David Saussey, whose son learns Chinese in elementary school, it seems unthinkable that the entire program was now on the chopping block.
Chinese instruction in public schools, Saussey told the Chapel Hill News, is “important to our schools’ 21st century goals.”

Many parents and educators agree. Chinese is the national language of the more than 1.3 billion inhabitants of China and millions more ethnic Chinese around the globe, and is the most widely spoken first language in the world. The National Education Association believes proficiency in world languages is one of the many vital skills students need to compete for high-skill jobs and thrive in the interconnected 21st-century economy.

Interest in learning Chinese has surged in the past decade as American economic ties to China have deepened. A growing number of elementary and high schools are offering Chinese classes. School districts have expanded Chinese language programs and students from a wide range of backgrounds have joined them.

According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the number of K-12 public school students in the United States learning a Chinese language rose to nearly 60,000 in 2008, from about 20,000 in 2005. Still, Spanish remains by far the most-commonly taught foreign language in American classrooms, with 864,986 students enrolled in Spanish classes in 2009, according to the same study.

Some observers argue that we may be seeing a bit of “bubble” – similar to the trend toward teaching Japanese in the 1980s when Japan looked to become a superpower economic rival to the United States. When Japan’s economy declined in the early 1990s, the spotlight on learning the language faded.

Still, Marty Abbot, executive director of ACTFL, doesn’t see any Chinese language “bubble.”

“As long as China stays in the news,” Abbot says, “interest in learning Chinese will not drop off. We haven’t seen any decline.”

And for teacher Lisa Caress (see video above), the benefits of learning Chinese extend far beyond questions of 21st century skills and competition. Caress is a Chinese language specialist at Kit Carson Elementary, an NEA Priority School in Clark County, Nevada. Not only does learning Chinese have an empowering effect on her students, but Caress also points to how a foreign language helps them in other classes. “It really compliments a language arts program,” explains Caress, a former resident of China, “because you’re forced to always refer back to your own language that you understand to gain meaning into the new language.”

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The Quest for German Language Revival, Pt. II

Here’s an elaboration on yesterday’s article on the German language decline and attempts to reverse it. The following was written by Sam Dillon for The New York Times, April 13, 2012:

ON the day in November 1989 that the Berlin Wall came down, Michael Legutke, a linguist working for the West German government, was in Casper, Wyo., leading a training workshop for the state’s German teachers. When the TV news affiliate learned there was a real live German, right there in Casper — and one who had grown up in East Germany and spoke flawless English — he was recruited to do a live feed. Dr. Legutke found himself facing a camera, taking turns offering news commentary with Tom Brokaw in Berlin. Moved by the images of East Germans streaming through the breached wall into the west, Dr. Legutke wept during the broadcast.

The drama of Berlin’s reunification and Communism’s collapse focused worldwide interest on all things German, and German classes in American public schools saw significant enrollment increases. But by the mid-1990s, the surge ended. The United States was turning its attention to Asia and the Mideast; Arabic and especially Chinese began displacing German and several other European languages once at the core of the American curriculum.

Ever since, the precarious future of the German language in North America has been a concern for the Berlin government, which has turned to Dr. Legutke and Daniel S. Hamilton, a Johns Hopkins professor, to strategize on how to bolster German instruction here.

“In the U.S., German is on the defensive,” they conclude in a new study that could serve as a blueprint for other languages threatened by tectonic shifts in American demographics. “It is under increasing attack from many directions and for many different reasons.”

Among the most intractable challenges cited are the aging of German teachers here — 40 percent are more than 50 years old, according to the American Association of Teachers of German — and the evolution of America’s student population from largely white to multiracial. Traditionally, few minorities study German, and fewer still teach it. Of 1,424 teachers surveyed by the study, 1,366 were white, eight were black and six were Hispanic. Students, the study says, “must see black, Hispanic, Indian or other people of color who speak fluent German and can serve as role models.”

The study also argues that a well-financed Chinese government campaign to expand Mandarin instruction across the United States has taken a toll on German: “China pursues a very active policy of subsidies, with the avowed goal of anchoring Chinese instruction in the U.S. educational landscape.”

And then there is the character of the American student: “The U.S. is a country of immigrants and foreign-language speakers, but not a country of foreign language learners. A large majority of the population do not see foreign-language skills as relevant for their own economic, intellectual and social progress.”

Of course, Germany, with the largest economy in Europe, remains an industrial, cultural and scientific powerhouse. And after Spanish and French, German is still the third most-studied language in the United States, with half a million elementary, secondary and university students enrolled in classes. (Spanish is in a class by itself, with more than 7 million students; French has more than 1 million.)

But enrollments have declined. In 1990 about 133,000 American college students were learning German; a decade later, 96,000 were, according to the Modern Language Association. For most of the last century it was a foregone conclusion that schools would offer German — the language of parents and grandparents — along with Spanish, French and perhaps Latin and Russian. But a study financed by the federal Department of Education found that only 14 percent of high schools taught German in 2008, down from 24 percent in 1997.

The same survey saw a drop in the proportion of high schools teaching French, from 64 percent to 46 percent, and the French government now has its own effort to increase student enrollments. Italy, too, has mobilized. The College Board suspended its Advanced Placement test in Italian in 2009 because of low student participation. The program returns in May, with money collected by the Italian government and private concerns.

But the Germans have special reasons for worry.

Attracting diverse students is difficult, the study says, because of “the general impression that German is a difficult language” compared with other European languages. Also, many American students — not only minorities — associate Germany with the Third Reich and the Holocaust, and as a land of blue eyes and blond hair, beer and oompah music.

The story of Eddy Enriquez Arana, a German instructor at Pennsylvania State University, Mont Alto, proves that German can attract diverse students. Born in Guatemala, Mr. Enriquez first started learning the language from German exchange students he befriended while in high school in California. Later he studied the language in Austria and Germany, and fell in love with the culture.

“I’ve become an advocate for German,” he says. But he acknowledges that persuading minority students to take German is not easy. “Very occasionally, an African-American student will take German” at his college, he says. “But not very often.”

Margaret Hampton, an African-American professor of German at Earlham College in Indiana, who first became immersed in German on a semester abroad in Vienna, has worked for 20 years on a minority recruitment task force. She believes that students will be more interested if they are shown Germany’s multicultural society, and has produced teaching materials that examine the contributions of diverse groups to modern Germany.

For the past three summers, Dr. Hampton has led groups of educators to Berlin to interview Jews about their struggles to rebuild their communities in post-Holocaust Germany; Afro-Germans who trace their roots to Germany’s 19th-century African colonies; and Turkish-Germans whose ties to Germany date to a labor agreement that brought thousands of Turkish laborers to Germany in the 1960s. “If there’s any area where we need to give ourselves an F,” she says, “it’s on recruiting minority students.”

Robert Williams has grappled with these hurdles teaching German for the past decade at Fairfax High School in Virginia. “Kids come in with a negative image of Germany and the Germans,” he says.

Fairfax High is a suburban school where 42 percent of students are white, 24 percent Asian, 18 percent Latino and 10 percent black. When Mr. Williams started teaching there in 2002, only a handful of the 75 students enrolled in German were Asians or Hispanics, and there was one lone African-American. He has made it a point to emphasize Germany’s diversity, showing videotapes of people speaking the language who don’t look traditionally German, including President Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama, a Kenyan who lived in Germany and speaks fluently; and the actor Boris Kodjoe, who is the son of a German psychologist and a Ghanaian physician. Some Korean students signed up after seeing a poster on his office door showing Asian youths studying German in Berlin.

“This tells students, ‘Hey, Germany today is different; not just white people speak German,’ ” Mr. Williams says. This year he teaches five classes totaling 125 students. Roughly 60 are white, 20 are Asian, a dozen are black, and another dozen are Latino. That mix does not completely reflect the school’s diversity. “But every year I get closer,” he says.

Still, Mr. Williams is looking over his shoulder — at Chinese. In 2000, about 100 students in the Fairfax district were studying Chinese, compared with 2,400 students enrolled in German. In the 11 years since, German enrollments have crept up modestly, to 2,650 students. Chinese enrollments have exploded, to 4,800 students.

Many districts have seen similar surges. Hanban, an agency of China’s Education Ministry, is rolling out an ambitious, long-term Mandarin expansion plan. It has recruited hundreds of young Chinese teachers to work in American public schools, their salaries subsidized by the Chinese government, an enticing offer to school superintendents with tight budgets. And it has flown thousands of superintendents and other school administrators to visit schools across China, at Beijing’s expense. Many of those educators, on returning home, have organized Mandarin classes in their districts for the first time, often deciding to phase out an existing language to make room. Not infrequently, that has been German.

Parthena Draggett, the world language department chairwoman at Jackson High School, in Massillon, Ohio, and a curriculum coordinator from the same district toured China with 400 other American educators as part of a Hanban-sponsored trip in 2009. In an interview days after their return, Ms. Draggett gushed about China’s friendly people and growing economy, and about expanding Jackson’s fledgling Mandarin program, begun in 2007 with Hanban support.

Unfortunately, expanding Chinese meant phasing out German, which was less popular than Spanish or French.

“There’s nothing wrong with German,” Ms. Draggett says today. “But look at where languages are spoken — French all across the Mideast, and Spanish all around us.” Jackson High stopped offering German I classes in fall 2010, and will stop teaching it altogether in 2013.

It was partly in reaction to these Chinese initiatives that Dr. Hamilton, who served in the United States Embassy in Berlin during the 1990s, convened several dozen German and American educators in 2010 to discuss German’s future. They gathered in Bemidji, Minn., where he runs Concordia College’s German immersion summer camp each summer. The German government made clear its own concerns by sending its ambassador in Washington.

A follow-up conference in New York City last fall came up with the slogan “Just Add German” for a media campaign to persuade students that a minor in German would improve their marketability in a global economy.

“Adding German to a degree in engineering or computer technology makes an unbeatable combination,” says Eva Marquardt, a director at the Goethe Institute who organized the New York conference.

Last year, the German Foreign Office contracted Dr. Legutke, a professor of linguistics at the University of Giessen, and Dr. Hamilton to carry out their study. Dr. Hamilton worked the East Coast, Midwest and South. Dr. Legutke surveyed the West, where he spoke with many dispirited educators. In the Tualatin-Tigard district, outside Portland, Ore., Tualatin High had stopped teaching German in 2007, and Tigard High had just begun shutting it down. “Several teachers reported on local battles trying to save a German program, and losing,” he says.

Their study makes some 80 recommendations. They include creating stipends to help minority high school students pay for summer language study in Germany, incorporating language training into German-supported soccer camps, and organizing internships with German companies for American students. It also recommends borrowing tactics from Beijing. The young teachers who have fanned out across the United States under China’s guest teacher program have projected an attractive image of China, charming thousands of students into trying Mandarin. German students seeking a teaching degree could to do their student teaching in American classrooms — to “represent young Germany” and “get Americans excited about German.”

The study’s sense of urgency is palpable. “One must adjust to new times,” it says. And a new world.

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Eagle County, Colorado, School District Drops Some Foreign Language Programs

This school districts wants to force students to pay $150 to learn languages (on line) dropped by the system.  Unbelievable!  Here’s the story in full by Randy Wyrick for Vail, April 9, 2012:

AGLE, Colorado — The school district cut its French and German teachers, so students who want to take a foreign language besides Spanish will pay up to $150 per semester for online classes.

Nancy Bujnowski has been with Eagle Valley High School her entire career, 21 years — four years from retirement — teaching French, German, English, Chinese and ESL. Hers was one of the 70 jobs the school district cut, even though a petition signed by 98 of her students was presented to district officials.

“Who’ll be hurt? The kids,” Bujnowski said.

Bujnowski earned her master’s degree in English language acquisition.

Superintendent Sandra Smyser and school district human resources director Brian Childress gave Bujnowski their final decision, Bujnowski said.

She says she plans to appeal it to the school board. The hearing is set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

She can also appeal the district’s decision to a third party arbitrator. The district splits the cost of a third party arbiter with the teacher, Childress said.

The school district also cut Battle Mountain’s French teacher Lindsay Kiehn.

The district’s Spanish courses will remain intact. 


Language online

Students who want to take French or any foreign language besides Spanish or Battle Mountain’s Chinese program will have to pay $150 for an online language instruction program.

Battle Mountain’s Chinese program is funded largely by the Chinese national government and an anonymous local donor. Eagle Valley students are taking Chinese online. Bujnowski is teaching Eagle Valley’s Chinese classes.

The district is buying its online German and French courses through Aventa Learning, a vendor that supplies online materials and teachers, said Brooke Macke, the school district’s communications director.

“Eagle County Schools encourages students to take foreign language classes, as it supports the notion that students should have specials and electives opportunities alongside of the core content subjects,” Macke said.

An online language course costs roughly $250, Macke said. Previous to budget cuts, the school district covered almost all the cost.

Now, though, students will have to pay $150 to take a single language class as an elective. The school district will still pick up the tab for the other $100, Macke said. 


Language classes required

Ironically, the school district’s decision to eliminate some of its foreign language offerings comes as a new national report decries the education industry’s failure to produce enough foreign-language speakers to fill key positions in the Foreign Service, in intelligence agencies, and in America’s increasingly global companies.

“We are the most monolingual major society on Earth,” said former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who co-chaired the task force that produced the report.

America’s failure to prepare its young people for a globalized world is now so grave that it poses a national security threat, their report says.




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Darien Connecticut Finance Board Wants Foreign Language Cuts from Elementary Schools

Story by David DesRoches for Dariein Times, April 12, 2012:

Elementary school Spanish could be dead before it had a chance to live.

The Board of Finance expressed its desire to cut the Board of Education’s budget by roughly $442,000 on Tuesday, to keep the mill rate hike at around 4%. Finance Chairman Liz Mao told the Board of Ed that finding this money should be “relatively easy.”

“I know you’ve managed things well,” Mao said. “You’ve managed it so well, with a $900,000 deficit in special ed (this year), you’ve found it by finding $479,000 in fixed costs, personnel and overhead. That’s a considerable amount of money. What that tells me is there’s a little cushion in the budget.”

“I think there’s some overhead that might be a little fluffy, let’s put it that way,” Mao added.

School board Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross was in the audience and told Mao that the schools continually defer buying books and other services that impact learning. “We’ve deferred, deferred and deferred,” Hagerty-Ross said. “Every time we have a deficit, we’re deferring things our children need. This year, in our opinion, has cleaned us out.”

The schools projected a deficit early in the school year of around $250,000, with special ed costs running over and reduced reimbursements from the state to cover excessive spending on special ed. To this point, the schools have taken $160,000 from the general education budget to plug the gap, Hagerty-Ross said.

For next year, Mao suggested that the schools could deduct $150,000 from its pension fund obligations, leaving the schools to cut another $291,000 from its spending plan to minimize the tax rate increase.

“I think you can probably find it and look in the same places where you found that $479,000 rather quickly,” Mao said.

“Our new initiatives are 0.92(%), so there you go,” Hagerty-Ross said, referring to the Spanish language program at the elementary schools, which would cost about $344,000, and the proposed addition of a social worker and school psychologist, as well as a new high school teacher. There is also some extra money planned for technology spending next year.

Mao weighed in on the Spanish program. “Personally I think the new language initiative is too expensive,” she said. “It’s not a language program, it’s familiarization with world cultures… I think that’s something the Board of Ed might want to look at.”

Martha Banks, finance board vice chairman, also urged the schools to increase its anticipated reimbursement from the state for special ed excess costs, which would lessen the town’s anticipated funding obligation. This money is paid to Darien for children whose individual expenses are 4.5-times the per pupil cost of the average student.

But with costs per student going down because of efficiencies made in special education service delivery, Darien is eligible for less money from the state, said Dr. Stephen Falcone, schools superintendent. The school board cut its expected reimbursements to $2 million next year, which is down about $540,000 from what it’s hoping to get this year.

The conundrum gains complexity when examining the entire situation. This year, the schools planned on spending $3.5 million in reimbursable expenses, but budgeted to get $2.9 million, knowing that the state has been cutting how much it pays localities. But then 59 students flooded special education unexpectedly, which essentially diluted the pool of available money because the schools were providing those services without hiring additional staff. As money gets spread around, the more efficient the schools are and the less money there is from the state.

Banks examined past trends with the state’s excess costs and noted that Darien has never received less than 1.75% of the total available money. Under the schools’ current estimation, it would only be getting 0.7% of the available money, according to Banks.

“It looks like you’ve under-funded,” Banks said, adding that the schools could add about $200,000 to this amount, which would leave another $91,000 to be cut.

Hagerty-Ross and other school board members appeared frustrated, as excess cost concerns have been a topic of discussion at nearly every board meeting this year. And given that they under-funded this year, and were criticized for it, and are now being asked to increase this number, a mood of consternation was almost palpable.

“It’s a stretch to go in this direction,” Hagerty-Ross said. “To handcuff us to a number that we don’t believe we can make, it’s setting us up for another deficit next year.”

But Mao said that if the finance board’s numbers were wrong, the schools could come to them for additional money. Other finance board members noted that there is a special education contingency fund to cover overages in that account, and an additional $96,000 is coming back to the schools as it was not reimbursed its maximum amount last year for excess costs.

In the total budget, the finance board found $2.2 million it could save on next year’s expenses through savings in debt service and medical insurance. They also increased revenue estimates and chose to fund the $750,000 Middlesex Middle School roof replacement with this year’s money instead of including it in capital expenses.

The elementary Spanish program was the only specific item the finance board mentioned for possible elimination, although it does not have authority to cut any specific line items from the school budget, aside from capital projects.

Without the Board of Finance’s proposed cuts, the $111,008,761 tax-funded budget would create a mill rate of $12.73 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current rate is 12.20, and with the finance board’s suggested cuts, the rate would be 12.68.

The finance board also expressed its desire to cut security cameras from the schools capital projects, which would save $117,000. All other capital expenses appear safe.

The schools met on Wednesday for its bimonthly meeting, and the finance board is slated to vote on the school budget tonight at 7:30 in Town Hall. The Representative Town Meeting is scheduled to vote on the town and school budgets separately on Monday, May 14.

Bruce Orr, RTM’s Finance & Budget Committee chairman, declined to speculate on whether the RTM would approve the Board of Finance’s adjusted budget.



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Foreign Language Courses at Dutch Universities Continue to Be Cut

Christopher F. Schuetze wrote this article for The New York Times (April 8, 2012) about the elimination of Portuguese from Utrecht University:

The decision to close a Portuguese language program at Utrecht University seemed to exemplify the type of change the Dutch government envisioned when last year it demanded efficiency from the country’s universities.

Once popular, the program now attracts few students, said Wiljan van den Akker, the dean of humanities at Utrecht, in the Netherlands. “I’m not able to keep the Portuguese program open for only three students a year,” he said by telephone from his office last week, referring to the decision, announced in February.

In an attempt to make higher education more efficient, the Dutch government is demanding that universities list their strengths and weaknesses. The aim of this profiling process, generally agreed to by the universities in December, is to establish firm, transparent internal goals.

The cuts and consolidation of language courses at certain universities are the result of budget constraints and shrinking popularity of the subjects, rather than the direct result of government profiling, university administrators say. The highly publicized measures do respond, however, to government demands and help universities prove their willingness to become more efficient.

“It fits in, without any doubt,” said Robert Wagenaar, director of undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Groningen.

Language learning has been on the decline in the Netherlands, where high schools no longer demand extensive foreign language skills apart from English, university administrators say. Popular university programs risk having to close as more students look toward degrees in other fields.

The University of Groningen is in the process of consolidating many of its language courses, Mr. Wagenaar said last week by telephone. Specialization in individual languages will be subsumed into courses leading to a broader degree, the bachelor’s of European language and culture, starting in 2013, he said.

While no language available now will cease to be taught, it is hoped that an important reorganization will bring more students to the program.

Cultural and historical discussions will take place in Dutch, Mr. Wagenaar said. “We will focus more in a European context,” he said of the new program. “We will bring in politics and society.”

By bringing together students who are interested in learning modern European languages and widening the scope of the program, the university hopes to ensure that enough students are enrolled to help the program thrive.

Instead of the two or three students who start a course exclusively dedicated to Hungarian, for example, all 120 students enrolled in the program at large can discuss wider, more pan-European topics, Mr. Wagenaar said.

And besides benefiting from a more diverse classroom experience, students will spend a semester at a foreign university where the target language is spoken.

Universities are also now competing with one another for a slice of extra education funding. The Ministry of Education will make available €80 million, or $105 million, in 2012 and €325 million in 2016 in additional funding for universities that demonstrate strong academic profiles and efficiency targets in the next five years.

To be considered, universities and technical institutions must submit a profile to the education minister, laying out their plans in terms of strengths and efficiency. Submissions will be made in May for extra funding that is available starting in September.

“They are not obliged to do it,” said Job Slok, a spokesman at the Ministry of Education, adding that he expected most universities to participate.

Sijbolt Noorda, head of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, who signed the agreement in principle for the universities, says the impetus for cooperation among universities comes from the institutions themselves, not from government guidelines.

“The government really applauds this kind of efficiency movement,” said Mr. Noorda, adding that universities have been working toward such internal efficiency and external cooperation for years.

Mr. van den Akker said he did not like having to oversee the closure of his university’s Portuguese-language program.

“It’s a nasty thing to do,” he said.

But while students will not be able to enroll in Portuguese classes taught by his faculty after September 2014, there is a vibrant Latin American program that incorporates Portuguese-language learning at Leiden University, just 60 kilometers, or about 40 miles, away.


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