Sea change in varsity language policies

File picture: David Ritchie

File picture: David Ritchie

Published Nov 22, 2015


Cape Town - Stellenbosch University (SU) management’s announcement of English as the primary language of teaching and communication from as early as January has turned the spotlight on language policies of other Afrikaans institutions.

SU’s changed language policy awaits approval by its council at the end of the month before it can be implemented.

An intellectual and financial hub of Afrikaner nationalism during apartheid, SU announced last week teaching would primarily be in English.

It would also become the lingua franca of meetings at student residences as well as of administration, including meetings, official documents and services at reception desks and the call centre.

Two hundred and twenty sixSU academic and support staff endorsed the decision last week.

“A decision to make English the language of meetings, documents and university business enables SU to effectively move beyond its political past,” they said.

“Developing an inclusive and shared institutional ethos based on equal worth, dignity and respect would establish our university as a welcoming place for students, academics, and all its workers”.

In contrast, Afrikaans advocacy groups like AfriForum and the FW De Klerk Foundation are dismayed by SU’s shift.

Countrywide, inclusivity is the trend as previously Afrikaans-preference institutionsmove towards multilingualism.

Elsenburg College outside Stellenbosch – where tension flipped into violence between black and white students over Afrikaans’s continued superior status in September – agreed on parallel English and Afrikaans classes as an interim mediation measure.

Speaking to Weekend Argus last week, its spokeswoman Petro van Rhyn said they would implement a multilingual language policy in line with the Provincial Language Act.

“The practical implications are still being finalised. The policy will underline the inclusive and quality education we present at the institution,” she said.

North West University already offers classes in English and Afrikaans – set to increase next year.

This year, students formed an activist group, ReformPUK, to “address questions of transformation, high fees, academic and financial exclusions and the outsourcing of work”.

University spokesman Louis Jacobs said its Potchefstroom campus was largely Afrikaans but it plans to “expand our parallel medium offering”, so that English-language classes will increase.

He said students already used devices aiding translationfrom Afrikaans to English.

However, ReformPUK said translation remains one of their grievances with the university’s language policy.

The group said: “To date, black and English-speaking students are oppressed by Afrikaans medium education with translation services that are totally useless.”

They accused the university of negotiating in bad faith when, in October, it promised them an audience with the university council scweekheduled to meet on Friday, if they ceased #FeesMustFall protests.

Jacobs dismissed Reform PUK’s bad faith charge and said students had never been promised an audience with its university council.

Weekend Argus

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