According to UP spokesperson Anna-Retha Bouwer, the implementation date of the new language policy was subject to the process to be followed with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in order to change the statute of UP. Bouwer further added that students currently receiving tuition in Afrikaans would be able to complete their studies in Afrikaans.

According to Nobungcwele Mbem, the SRC member with the media and marketing portfolio who formed part of the language policy work stream and is also a member of UP’s Senate, the new language policy was adopted concurrently by both Senate and Council and entails that English will be the only medium of tuition effective for all first time first-year students from 1 January 2017. This means that all lectures, tests, exams and tutorials will be given in English. Mbem confirmed that students who are currently studying in Afrikaans would be allowed to finish their courses in Afrikaans, but added that this would happen provided that it is financially and academically feasible and that it is within an acceptable timeframe. “The feasibility will be administered at a faculty level while being informed by the new conditions of the new language policy,” Mbem explained.

UP’s decision to change its language policy has been both welcomed and criticised. In a statement issued on 24 June, the ANC, SACP, Cosatu and Sanco congratulated UP on its open, transparent and democratic process in adopting the new language policy. However, Afriforum and Solidarity have announced that they are consulting their legal teams over possible action against the decision.

Khaye Nkwanyana, spokesperson for Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of the DHET, told Perdeby that the DHET had greatly welcomed the decision by UP on its language policy, calling it a major breakthrough in addressing the issue of language of academic teaching that accommodates all students. “The institution has been briefing us in its process of language redress and we congratulate them for this giant step,” he said. Nkwanyana added that what this decision demonstrates is “the effect that when university leadership embraces the need to address transformation, it is possible”.

The Independent Transformation Panel (ITP) of UP’s Council concluded its report on recommendations to the current language policy on 17 June, which was then presented to Council.

The panel consisted of Justice Johann van der Westhuizen, a former Constitutional Court judge, Khanyisile Kweyama, CEO of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), Dr Danie Langer, MD of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK), Prof. Sheila Mmusi, chair of the Setswana Language Commission of the Academy for African Languages (ACALAN) of the African Union, Judge Jeremiah Shongwe, judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, and Prof. Adam Small, a philosopher and poet.

The ITP received 78 submissions from various internal and external stakeholders. The submissions had diverse views on the language policy and arguments were put forward in favour of retaining the current language policy, in favour of a more comprehensively multilingual policy, in favour of a monolingual policy, and arguments that centred around the protection of Afrikaans and for accommodations regarding the language policy.

The recommendations submitted included that subject codes should be changed to English, students should be allowed to respond to exam questions in English, Afrikaans or Sepedi without undue influence, and students currently studying in Afrikaans should be able to complete their courses in Afrikaans.

Several industry stakeholders, including the Actuarial Society of South Africa, the Health Professions Council of South Africa, and the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, all submitted that English should be the primary or only language of tuition at UP.

In submitting its report, the ITP made 12 recommendations regarding UP’s language policy. Among these recommendations were that the current language policy be amended or replaced by a new one, that the new language policy should be implemented without delay and, as far as possible, by the beginning of 2017, that English is to be the main language of teaching and learning, and that urgent attention be given to develop Sepedi to a higher level of scientific discourse.

The ITP further agreed with the draft language policy proposal by the legkotla and work stream that UP is to at least use English, Afrikaans and Sepedi for ceremonial purposes and that UP must encourage students and staff to learn South African languages.

According to a consolidated document on the number of modules in Afrikaans and class sizes per faculty, the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences have no modules in Afrikaans and no students studying in Afrikaans.

The ITP report further explained that the task team’s recommendations were largely informed by several factors. Among these were that the number of students who report their home language to be Afrikaans has decreased from 85.2% in 1992 to 30% in 2015. Furthermore, 82.1% of students currently indicated that they preferred English as a medium of instruction, compared to 17.9% who preferred it in Afrikaans. The report further cited that the task team’s recommendations were based on the idea of entrenching multilingualism for the promotion of social cohesion, the important link between language and student success, and UP’s obligation to contribute to the development of all South African languages as languages of communication.

Speaking to Perdeby, Afriforum Youth Tukkies branch spokesperson Henrico Barnard said, “The short and long of it is that Afriforum Youth [is] not stepping away yet [and] we will fight [so] that no student’s Constitutional rights are violated.” Barnard added that Afriforum was considering their options and that one possibility was to take the matter to court. Commenting on UP’s decision for a new language policy, Daso UP branch chairperson Kwena Moloto said that Daso UP strongly supported the introduction of multiple support languages and the creation of the opportunity for indigenous languages to be retained. “We strongly feel UP must prioritise indigenous languages that were not previously supported,” added Moloto.

In 2006 the Koornhof Committee, chaired by Prof. Carolina Koornhof, was appointed by the Senate to identify problems with UP’s language policy. The Koornhof Committee identified several problems, including the costs involved in teaching a large number of modules, direct costs in duplicating modules in both languages, and the indirect costs of repeating modules with low enrolments. Following from this in 2006 the Melck Committee, chaired by Prof. Anthony Melck, was established by the Senate to review and refine UP’s language policy. Among its recommendations included the request for more funding from the DHET for language policy issues, interpretation measures in assisting students, and due consideration for the costs involved in duplicating modules in both languages without placing excessive constraints on UP’s other objectives.

In 2015 the Duncan Task Team, chaired by Prof. Norman Duncan, was established to review UP’s language policy. The Duncan Task Team recommendations included that UP should programmatically promote multilingualism, that English should be the primary language of instruction in all lectures and tutorials, that Afrikaans should be maintained and further developed as a language of scholarship, and that Sepedi should be programmatically developed as a language of scholarship.


Infographics: Daimon Sewell

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