South Africa: Language 'divides UFS students'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Sep 4 16:26:49 UTC 2008

Language 'divides UFS students'

The University of the Free State's (UFS) parallel-medium language
policy, with separate English and Afrikaans lectures, is derailing its
efforts to become a non-racial institution, complains an audit report
of the Council for Higher Education. The audit panel made a site visit
in October 2006, but UFS started its self-evaluation process much
earlier. Problems listed by the council's quality committee, whose
report was approved a few weeks ago, include:

Afrikaans-speaking lecturers have poor English skills.

Exam papers are poorly translated from Afrikaans to English, putting
black students at a disadvantage.

Class schedules favour Afrikaans-speakers.

The university's rapid growth -- from about 9 300 students in 1990 to
24 650 in 2005 -- transformed it from a white Afrikaans institution to
a parallel-medium university with a majority of African students. The
audit report underlines the "unforeseen negative" influence of its
language policy on the recruitment, integration and retention of black
academics and the racial divisions among students, socially and in
residences. It highlights the influence of the language policy on
learning and teaching, including the poor English skills of Afrikaans
lecturers and assessment practices. It warns that discrepancies in the
translation of papers "could have far-reaching consequences in an
environment where black students already perceive Afrikaans students
as being favoured by class schedules", and urges the university to
rectify this.

Reacting, UFS said it was already addressing these concerns at the
time of the audit and that its new approach was captured in its
2007-2010 transformation strategy. Willem Malherbe, registrar of
strategic planning, said UFS has conducted a cross-faculty study aimed
at pinpointing problems in its language policy. As a result, it had
approved classroom interpreting system for specific modules where a
lecturer had unique expertise but lacked the necessary language

Simultaneous interpretation would begin next year for 851 ­periods in
modules across faculties, while interpreting services are also
available to residences and across UFS's academic and support
services. The 2009 budget to promote multi­lingualism is R2,4-million.
Malherbe said UFS has introduced projects that target white staff,
older whites and young black staff, aimed at enhancing social
interaction, sensitising council members, staff and students to
diversity, and building a sense of belonging among staff affected by

The university changed the policy last year to bring about greater
racial diversity in its residences. Ironically, this triggered the
white backlash, culminating in the shocking initiation video made last
September by students in the Reitz men's residence. This week the
university indicated that its new policy has had "mixed results", with
diversity targets not yet met in all the residences. "Resistance from
students is still unacceptably high, while the Reitz video incident
played its part in complicating matters," said Malherbe.
UFS has appointed an external agency, iGubu, to help implement its
integration policy.

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