The revised language policy framework needs a major cash injection to be implemented properly

Published On: 11 October 2021|

It is not unimaginable that South African universities will need to spend between one to 5% of their budgets to implement the government’s new language policy framework, scheduled to take effect from 2022.

So, if institutions are to fully deliver on the laudable aims and objectives of the language policy framework, they need funding. And this money must not be reprioritised funding, but a “significant fresh injection”, said Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at Stellenbosch University (SU). Funding could not be adjusted from another source because the policy’s objectives will have to compete with other priorities, which universities might view as greater contributors to their academic standing and financial sustainability, he said.

Ramjugernath (left), was introducing the session, Resources for the Implementation of the Language Policy Framework, at the recent online Colloquium on the New Language Policy for Higher Education.

Stellenbosch University hosted the event held under the auspices of Universities South Africa (USAf), as a joint project with USAf’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL).

“The institutional cost of multilingualism can be significant,” said Ramjugernath. “If one considers the human resource aspects, implicit staff-related costs in both the professional affairs and support and academic environments, as well as all the intrinsic costs of translation of lecture materials, exam papers, reports, presentations, emails, etc, the actual cost, both direct and indirect, rapidly mounts up.”

Universities are required to set up plans about how they will fulfil the framework’s intentions. “Their policies may have all the best intentions, and address all the purposes, aims and objectives set out in the language policy framework for higher education, but be entirely lame in their implementation, not because of intent but because of reasonable practicability,” said Ramjugernath. Funding would make implementation of the policy practicable, he said.

He said language centers at universities, which could assist in the successful implementation of the language policies, have had their budgets cut over time “due to changing institutional priorities within budget constraints”.

He said it was necessary to list their work in some detail “because at times I believe that our colleagues do not get an appreciation of the extent of resources and infrastructure required to effectively deliver on the intent to be a multilingual institution”, he said.

Work towards implementing the revised Language Policy Framework would include:

  • assisting with academic and professional literacies in terms of credit bearing courses, which enabled students to bridge the gap between secondary and tertiary education;
  • language and communication design;
  • terminology development;
  • translating podcasts and lecture materials; and
  • interpreting services, including sign language and Braille.

The Colloquium, attended by vice-chancellors, their deputies and language experts from all of South Africa’s 26 public universities from 28 to 29 September, was the first in a series of consultative meetings to be hosted by universities on the revised Language Policy for Higher Education. It paved the way for individual institutions to engage further on the matter, and for universities to craft or strengthen their own implementation strategies while contemplating the resources required to successfully implement multilingualism – within the context of broader transformation and decolonisation of South Africa’s higher education.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa