The Council of Stellenbosch University (SU) today (2 December 2021) approved the proposed new Language Policy for the institution with an overwhelming majority. This marks the end of a thorough, comprehensive and consultative revision process that started in October 2020. The 2021 revision forms part of a five-year revision cycle prescribed by the policy itself.
(Click here for more information, here for an infographic and here for the policy itself.)
On 26 November 2021, Senate approved the final draft of the Language Policy (2021) by an overwhelming majority, and recommended the document to Council. According to the Higher Education Act and the SU Statute, the Language Policy is the only policy to be approved by Council with the concurrence of Senate. Two weeks earlier, the Institutional Forum (IF) also adopted the final draft, and recommended it to Council.
“The revised Language Policy reaffirms that Stellenbosch University is a national asset in a diverse society,” said Council chair Mr George Steyn. “Without losing sight of the fact that SU also serves continental and global communities, the University recommits itself to multilingualism by using the three official languages of the Western Cape, namely Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa. This unlocks the intellectual wealth inherent in our linguistic diversity.”
Access and success
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, under whose portfolio the Language Policy falls, welcomed Council’s decision.
“Equitable access and student success are highly valued at SU, and language is key in this,” he said. “Our revised Language Policy will advance student success, as it creates a conducive teaching and learning environment – both in and outside the classroom, in student communities and in social spaces.”
Social cohesion on campus
Prof Ramjugernath added: “I am a strong believer that multilingualism can assist us greatly in building social cohesion on campus. Instead of dividing us, language can be used in a way that builds relationships and fosters mutual understanding.
“We respect language rights and believe that our students have more choices, more access and a better future as a result of the approach followed in our Language Policy.”
“When we refer to multilingualism, it relates to institutional and individual multilingualism, but also includes multilingualism as a means to promote inclusivity and an appreciation of the value of diversity,” Prof Ramjugernath continued. “Multilingualism goes beyond creating spaces and structures for the use of multiple languages in academic, administrative and social contexts, or individuals’ willingness to learn multiple languages. It is also about an attitude, a mindset, that we would like to foster at our institution.”
The 2021 SU Language Policy elaborates as follows on the benefits of this approach: “Multilingualism equips students to tap into a broader and more diverse knowledge base; to engage with society in a way that speaks to the heart, not just the mind; to be dynamic professionals, able to better demonstrate problem-solving, listening and interpersonal skills; and to be well-rounded individuals who can make informed decisions that take more than just their own thinking into consideration.”
As the 2016 Language Policy passed constitutional muster in the 2019 judgment by the Constitutional Court, the Language Policy Revision Task Team used that policy as point of departure. The task team was made up of representatives of all ten SU’s faculties and its professional and administrative support services as well as student representatives, with technical experts co-opted as necessary.
The task team compiled the first draft of the revised policy early this year and released the document for public participation in March/April 2021. The first draft, along with a response report of all inputs received, subsequently served before the Rectorate, faculty boards, Senate, the IF and Council for their feedback.
Having considered all comments, the task team developed a second draft, which was again released for public participation in July/August. In September, the second draft and another response report of inputs received during the second round of participation were submitted to the Rectorate, faculty boards, Senate, IF and Council.
The task team then completed the third and final draft of the 2021 Language Policy for submission to the IF and Senate in November, and to Council for final consideration and approval today. The final draft also served before the respective faculty boards in October and November.
SU consulted widely on all drafts of the proposed Language Policy – the year-long revision process included a total of 24 meetings – and the task team considered all inputs.
The policy provides for the use of Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa in learning and teaching at SU, as well as in communication (see highlights below). It also specifies the extent to which each language is to be used in various scenarios.
Learning and teaching
Afrikaans and English are designated as SU’s primary languages of learning and teaching, but translanguaging in multiple languages is encouraged to support and enhance learning. IsiXhosa as an academic language will receive particular attention for the purpose of its incremental introduction into various disciplines, in accordance with student needs, where reasonably practicable.
All official internal communication – i.e. communication from the Chancellor, Council, Senate, Rector or another member of top management to the entire University – will be conveyed in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa. Afrikaans, English and, where reasonably practicable, isiXhosa are SU’s languages of external communication as well. And in student communities (residences and private student organisation wards), the use of language should ensure that everyone is included and can participate.
The revised policy gives effect to the South African Constitution and the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions in relation to language use in the University’s academic, administrative, professional and social contexts.
The Language Policy provides for mechanisms to ensure academic oversight, effective management and good governance relating to language implementation. This occurs within a framework that enables faculties to develop language implementation plans as well as procedures for accountability and reporting to relevant structures.
The SU Language Centre will provide support, and the policy also outlines feedback, monitoring and conflict resolution mechanisms, including complaint procedures.
The Council-approved revised SU Language Policy will be implemented from January 2022.
Among others, the following key documents are available on SU’s dedicated language webpage at www.sun.ac.za/language:
- Language Policy (2021) (in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa)
- Context document for revision of Language Policy (2021)
- Main opinion about the legality of proposed 2021 Language Policy
- Supplementary opinion about the legality of final draft of the proposed 2021 Language Policy
Answers to frequently asked questions about language at SU, as well as statistics, are available at www.sun.ac.za/english/about-us/multilingualism.
Infographic about the 2021 Language Policy
Please note: The infographic explains policy highlights in simple terms, but the policy itself remains the only formal source to be consulted for official detail about its principles and provisions.