[lg policy] South Africa: Stellenbosch University Grappling With Language, but Plans Afoot for Multilingualism At Maties

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Mar 17 15:58:59 UTC 2016

South Africa: Stellenbosch University Grappling With Language, but Plans
Afoot for Multilingualism At Maties document By Sibongile Maputi

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training heard on Wednesday
that the University of Stellenbosch was grappling with multilingualism.

Dr Antoinette van der Merwe told the Committee that as things stand, the
policy only recognised English and Afrikaans as mediums of instructions but
that plans were afoot to promote isiXhosa as a teaching language.

"The policy change should be a widely consultative process. The university
will do its utmost to make it possible that other languages are
accommodated, within the constraints that the university has. We are
committed to the ideal of multilingualism - there is not a doubt about
that," she said.

She said the ideal of promoting isiXhosa as an academic language was

The Committee visited the University of Stellenbosch to, among other
things, receive briefings on transformation plans, language policy, student
accommodation, and all other issues that have resulted in much disruptions
through the higher education sector at most of the country's universities
since late last year.

Committee member Mr Sipho Mbatha said the whole country awaited the issue
of language policy at the University of Stellenbosch. "It is critical for
the university to turn the corner. But I am confused with the stated
assumptions with how you want to achieve equilibrium between Afrikaans and
English. What do you foresee as the final outcome given the history of this
university?" he asked.

He said the university's intention to still support Afrikaans does not
appear to be in line with the broader intention of growing the
non-Afrikaans speaking students.

"Some of the things that are reflected in the presentation have got a way
of arresting your development in the future," Mr Mbatha said.

Committee member Mr Yusuf Cassim said Stellenbosch University's policy
appeared to be more dual than multi-lingual.

"What progress has been made in the development of isiXhosa? What resources
had been allocated for this purpose? And what materials had been produced
to assist with interactive teaching in isiXhosa? He asked.

Mr Cassim said the output of black students appeared to be low given the
resources that the university spent on the development of students.

"The numbers of black students coming through should not be this low given
the resources at Stellenbosch. Some universities are teaching blacks in
tougher situations; what are the reasons behind this, and had there been an
investigation?" he asked.

Mr Cassim wanted to know if the dual language approach had an impact on
employment practices at the university and also wanted to know why it
seemed as though Stellenbosch University was unable to retain the black
academics it trained.

Committee member Ms Sibongile Mchunu wanted to know why the University
Council was so opposed to the use of English as the only medium of

Committee member Ms Julia Killian wanted to know if research had ever been
done to understand the relationship between the role of language and
performance of black students.

It was replied that other languages were integrated in educational
programmes such that various terminology style guides had been developed in
isiXhosa for faculties such as the Health Sciences.

Dr Van der Merwe said language was a complicating factor across students
and that academic literacy remained an issue for all students.

"The university is making an effort to address the academic literacy for
all students," she said.

The Vice-Chair of the University Council, Prof Pieter van der Walt, said
the council was not opposed to English, and that there was nothing it could
do about language as it was provided for in the language policy of the

"The council determines the language policy with the concurrence of the
senate. The council cannot make any decision on language policy. The only
way to change the policy is if the council got the go ahead from the
senate," he said.

Prof Van der Walt said changing policy involves a lengthy consultative
process that if short-circuited, would require six months.

It was revealed that competence in Afrikaans was no longer a requirement
when employing staff at the university. Members were also informed that
capping fee increases at 0% will not help the poor, rather will make
education cheaper for the rich.

Prof Van der Walt told the Committee that affordable higher education was
desirable as many developing countries could not afford free higher


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