State funding for universities’ language initiatives could increase with compelling evidence of potentially bigger impact 

Published On: 30 August 2023|

The year 2023 marks the first year that the government has given more money to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – an amount of R47-billion to undergraduates – than to universities.

“And what does that mean?” said Dr Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General (DDG) at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). ‘’It means that universities need to start looking at third-stream income to beef up their coffers.”

On the positive side, it could lead to greater opportunities for efficiency. She had worked in the university sector and knew where it could be “extremely inefficient” and where adjustments could be made, she said.

Dr Socikwa was speaking at the Joint Colloquium on Multilingualism in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics – Enhancing Success at Stellenbosch University (SU) on 17 August. Three communities of practice of Universities South Africa (USAf) hosted the colloquium: the one for the teaching and learning of Mathematics, the one for African languages, and the Education Deans’ Forum.

She made these comments during a panel discussion on Funding and collaboration between stakeholders and disciplines. The other panelist was Mr Lance Schultz, CEO of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), a government organisation established to preserve, promote and protect the country’s languages and foster multilingualism.

Socikwa (left) said South Africa was in a type of renaissance and had to review how it used its money. “We must change our mindset and find different ways of getting things done and reward differently.” Instead of offering monetary rewards, she suggested, for example, that deans consider giving more leave to academics when they have performed beyond expectations. She said spending additional time with their families and having more time to rest is priceless. “We have to think a little differently because the fiscus is under pressure,” she said.

In his input, Schultz had said a common question regarding government funding was: “What do you require funding for?” To which Socikwa later added that evidence of potential impact was also an important determinant.

From this session, a rich discussion ensued and an edited version of it follows below.

Overseas funders are willing to invest in multilingualism

Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, Dean of Education at SU said without resources, universities were going to struggle. With reference to an earlier mention by Dr Socikwa, of R70million funding allocated by the DHET for universities’ implementation of language plans in response to the Language Framework for Higher Education Institutions, Professor Madiba posed this question to the DDG:  Your department allocated R70m that will be run by the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Can you comment a bit about that?”

Dr Socikwa responded that the allocated budget was initially for 2024 to 2027. However, “if universities developed plans and the panel located in UWC feels they make sense, they will be allocated R2.5 million.

“Our decision making is evidence-based. If your impact reports advocate or justify for additional funding, we are then able to lobby our international partners. The European Union has been fantastic in this regard. It’s almost a step-up process becauseno one’s going to give you money for nothing. The evidence-based, stepped-up process to secure additional funding for additional research is the route to go.”

Another possibility was to partner with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on Humanities-related projects.

A promise from the DHET

“We have a target,” said Dr Socikwa. “We want to have 5000 PhDs come 2030.  You bring the numbers; we’ll look for the funding no matter what. That’s my promise to you. And if these PhDs are focused on the right topics to enable us to do better in this intersection between multilingualism and mathematics – that ensures we do better in the best interests of our kids – I will look for that funding. I will assist you in whatever way I can because it’s so important to us. I bleed every time I see the statistics about the abilities of our children, particularly from a global competitive space. We must do more for them. We cannot let them down.”

Dr Tulsi Morar (right), Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University and President of the Southern African Association for Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (SAARMSTE), said he would take the DDG up on her promise to find funding for compelling cases. “We support PhD candidates. Over the last 20-odd years we have helped about 700 PhDs. Some of them are our professors now, like Anthony Essien here from Wits, and Percy Sepeng.”

In addition, Professor Emmanuel Mgqwashu, Director for Faculty Teaching & Support directorate at the Centre for Teaching and Learning at North-West University, asked: “If there was a longitudinal study of five years, across three different provinces, where there is the teaching of all subjects from grade one to seven in the dominant language in that area, is that the kind of doctoral study of 10 candidates you will fund?”

There were no specific responses to either the earlier comment or this question.

What about the Department of Arts and Culture funding?

In universities’ advised pursuit of third- income streams, Professor Stanley Madonsela of the University of South Africa asked: “…what about the Department of Arts and Culture, what could be the stumbling block in terms of them providing the same funding?“

Socikwa responded:“We are currently finalising the student funding model. We are asking all other departments to stop spending on training or education-related projects. Those funds must come to us because we are best placed to decide how those funds are spent. We are tired of other departments funding certificate programmes which do not lead to enlightenment and that is the most courteous word I can find. That’s a proposal we’ve put on the table. We need to see what Cabinet will decide.”

Does PanSALB fund language development at universities?

Professor Percy Sepeng of Sol Plaatje University asked: “What nature of funding does PanSALB have for universities looking at advocating for African language education?”

Mr Leon Schultz (left) responded: “The language value chain has never adequately been mapped in South Africa. So, the observatory based at Nelson Mandela University had been tasked with doing the very first iteration of that to give us a sense of the landscape and the functional contribution towards the economy. One area they are getting focus on is language vitality and we’re looking forward to contributing to that.

“The other proverbial elephant in the room is to what extent has the private sector been engaged in supporting the work we assist with.  We’re going to be looking at that. I want to concur with my co-speaker that we are not going to say that we cannot. If there are compelling business cases that need to be resourced, we need to be presenting these in a manner that allows us to get an adequate amount of attention and funding.”

PanSALB funds the development of dictionaries

Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, Dean and Head of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Arts and Chairperson of USAf’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL), asked:“Please elaborate on some of the activities that the Pan South African Language Board funds.”.

Schultz responded: “National lexicographical units are aligned to certain universities. They are responsible for developing dictionaries, which is important as part of our development of indigenous languages, but also to ensure that we are continuously providing updates. Approximately 67% of our funding goes to the work these units are doing.

“National language bodies ensure that the policy prescripts provide the necessary regulatory oversight and provide guidance and advice in respect of language policies that need to be complied with in terms of the Use of Official Languages Act.

“The third leg of funding is to the provincial language committees, which deal with issues such as updating orthography rules and terminology lists.

He said the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has indicated a huge interest in supporting indigenous languages in the context of multilingualism in South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). “The decade of languages programme has been activated internationally. So, we are going to be submitting numerous projects.”

The PanSALB was working much closer with universities in updating some Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs). “We believe that if we pool our resources, we can deliver much better than in previous years… Sometimes it’s just a case of repurposing what we have already, instead of looking for additional monies to do what we need to do as we strive for excellence.”

Schultz added that PanSALB was not an isolated entity. They welcomed bilateral engagements for collaboration with institutions of higher learning.

Upcoming events

The meeting announced two upcoming events for mathematics and language practitioners and these were:

  • The 14th Southern Hemisphere Conference of the Teaching and Learning of Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics is taking place at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town from 25 November to 1 December 2023; and
  • USAf’s Community of Practice for African Languages (CoPAL) is hosting the Vice-Chancellors’ Language Colloquium at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the first week of December 2023.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.