The state of language policies at public institutions

Published On: 4 July 2022|

As universities enter the second half of 2022, they are ramping up efforts to accelerate progress toward implementing the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions requirements, which came into effect in 2022.

Welcoming members of Universities South Africa’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL) at their third meeting for the year on 22 June, USAf’s Director: Operations and Sector Support, Dr Linda Meyer, commended them for the milestones achieved in the past two years. She encouraged them to maintain that momentum for the next five years if this group was to realise a more significant impact on the system’s transformation by entrenching multilingualism in teaching and learning.

“We cannot look at the academe the way we did in the past. In our pursuit for making multilingualism a success, we must not lose sight of the systemic and political foundations, as well as institutional dynamics at play,” Dr Meyer said. She went on to say that “we cannot be celebrating people completing PhDs in their mother tongue when that should be a norm and not an exception to the rule. We need to push for more collaboration to build coherency in our actions.”

In his response to Dr Meyer, the Chairperson of CoPAL, who is also the Executive Director at the North-West University-based South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR), Professor Langa Khumalo, agreed that “we need to look at the broader ecosystem to identify areas where we can influence change to a bigger effect. I continue to appreciate USAf’s support in our work – which encourages us to push harder to normalise multilingualism… I thank Dr Meyer for her insightful words.”

The meeting kicked off with an update from a guest speaker in the form of the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Chief Director: Policy, Mr Chief Mabizela, who explained the steps that the DHET was taking toward supporting public institutions in their implementation of the Language Policy Framework. He, however, promised a more detailed update to the sector in due course once the budget and other decisions were formalised in this context.

CoPAL members in attendance also reported on their institutions’ progress in the development, revision or completion of language policies and, in some instances, implementation plans aimed at elevating the status of South Africa’s indigenous languages and advancing their use in teaching and learning.

The updates, as received on that day, are summarised below.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology: The language policy draft has been completed, and the university community has been apprised of it at different multilingual forums. However, the language implementation plan is not yet in place.

Durban University of Technology:  Work is just starting to develop a language policy based on recommendations from a recently published language report.

Mangosuthu University of Technology:  The institution will first form a language board comprising management and faculty representatives before it can look at the policy implementation plan. Further engagements are underway to explore collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Nelson Mandela University: the language policy draft is in place, waiting to be shared with the university community for further input.

Rhodes University:  From 21 to 22 July, heads of departments will gather at a colloquium in Makhanda to reflect on the Language Policy Framework. They will state what the Policy Framework means to them and how they see themselves contributing to its implementation and sharing good practices in their departments. Professor Dion Nkomo said he hoped to invite an official from the DHET to share with Rhodes academics the department’s position regarding rendering support to institutions in implementing this policy.

Stellenbosch University:  hosted a workshop earlier in June exploring how the university could advance the use of isiXhosa in teaching and learning. Currently, English and Afrikaans are the languages used in teaching and learning.

Tshwane University of Technology has practically completed the review process and the internal and external consultations. The draft was shared with a transformation authority at Nelson Mandela University, reviewing it to ensure it aligns with the higher education transformation agenda. Once that expert’s inputs are received and addressed, the policy will be ready to go to Council for final approval.

University of Cape Town: The University is drafting a questionnaire to determine how African Languages are used in teaching practices and the extent to which this is happening. The institution will determine its next course of action thereafter.

University of Fort Hare: Received input from the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB), guiding them on how they could develop the 11 official languages. The university has an implementation plan in place, which they submitted to the relevant management committee for review and a road map. Senate needs to approve the Draft Plan, following which the draft will be submitted to Council in September for final approval. CoPAL representatives had shared the Plan with colleagues at Rhodes and invited others to do the same for mutual learning.

University of the Free State: is reviewing its 2016 Language Policy in order to align it with the 2020 Language Framework. What they have identified to be missing in the old policy document is a declaration that all three official languages of the Free State are being used in teaching and learning.

University of KwaZulu-Natal: Is in the process of reviewing its language policy, the draft of which will soon be submitted to the University Language Board and, subsequently, to all relevant structures. Indications are that it could be finalised by the end of 2022.

University of Limpopo: Is awaiting inputs from other faculties on the revised policy. The draft proposes, among other changes, that particular modules be taught in an African language.

University of Mpumalanga: Since the institution hosted the CoPAL meeting on 23 March 2022, notable progress has been made, including consulting faculties. However, a lot more has yet to happen.

Vaal University of Technology: The language policy has passed all requisite approval stages and is about to be presented to Council.

Walter Sisulu University:  The Senate Language Committee has assigned a task team to work on revising the language policy and to present it at the Senate Language Committee Meeting in August.

Members of CoPAL from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu University said they wished that institutions with updated and approved policies and implementation plans could share them to enable others to learn, and for benchmarking purposes. Both the Chair and Deputy Chair of CoPAL supported this proposition. They requested USAf, as the Secretariat, to create a central repository for this purpose and announce that once the platform is up and running.

The Deputy Chair of CoPAL, Professor Nokhanyo Mdzanga, who is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University, said: “I am highly encouraged by the number of universities that have made advances on their policies. I wish that they share these to help others along.” Professor Langa Khumalo, the CoPAL Chair, expressed concern over the institutions that were not in attendance and who did not get to report. “Although we cannot do much beyond sharing, I do hope that CoPAL is succeeding in influencing good practices.”

Professor Khumalo then reported that preparations for the second vice-chancellors’ colloquium, scheduled for 1 to 2 September 2022 were progressing smoothly. Engagements with the University of Pretoria, the agreed host institution, were also advancing. The conference concept document had been shared with the UP players, who were lining up their ducks regarding the conference logistics. He said the theme for the 2022 meeting: Moving the conversation forward and harnessing the resources had been agreed upon. The concept document would be shared with the CoPAL members and other stakeholders as soon as it was appropriately branded.

The final meeting of CoPAL for the year will be hosted at the North-West University.

‘Mateboho Green is Universities South Africa’s Manager: Corporate Communication.