TUT showcases the rigor of its language policy processes and implementation infrastructure

Published On: 28 June 2023|

Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has added a third indigenous language to its revised policy. This change is part of the institution’s response to the government’s Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions. Promulgated in 2020, the policy aims to enhance the status and role of previously marginalised local languages in universities.

Whereas TUT’s 2005 language policy identified Setswana and Siswati as its official languages, its new language policy includes Sepedi.

Professor Mashupye Maserumule (left), Executive Dean of TUT’s Faculty of Humanities, announced this at the recent meeting of the Community of Practice for African Languages (CoPAL), hosted from TUT’s Pretoria West campus on 20 June. CoPAL is a structure of Universities South Africa, which has been spearheading the development of language policies at public universities as part of championing the adoption of multilingualism in mainstream teaching. This, as part of the broader transformation agenda in higher education.

It has become a tradition for institutions hosting CoPAL meetings to present an update of their languages policies.

Professor Maserumule told his 40 CoPAL peers in  attendance that developing TUT’s language policy had been a journey that culminated in Council approving it late last year.

He said the additional language had come about because of the strong presence of TUT’s distant campuses in eMalahleni, Mbombela and Polokwane, and the dominant languages spoken in those regions.

They had also considered the languages spoken on TUT’s six Tshwane-based campuses, even though there were some who would argue, and have done so in academic journals, that another dominant language in Pretoria is Sepitori, a dialogue created from a mix of various languages including tsotsitaal.

The policy states that whereas the university will continue to use English as a language of teaching and learning, it seeks to develop and intellectualise Setswana, Siswati and Sepedi for use as future languages of learning and teaching. Specifically, Siswati on its Mpumalanga-based campuses and Sepedi on its Limpopo-based one.

Another significant change to TUT’s language policy is its change of ownership from the office of the Registrar to that of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) of Teaching and Learning. This change fits “the objective of the framework that underscored the significance of developing these languages into language of scholarship, teaching and learning”, said Maserumule.

He said it was evident that universities were doing a lot in terms of exploring and exploiting the potential of African languages in facilitating access and success in higher education institutions. Added to this was now “the important argument”, he said, that the significance of language in South Africa is not only about transformation but also about decolonization.

TUT’s language policy review process

TUT had appointed a five-member coordinating team to drive the process. They had also established a task team of “very dedicated colleagues”, constituted from top-ranking university officials, including a DVC Teaching and Learning and several senior directors.

“This is the profile of the people who constituted a task team and shows the extent to which we treated this responsibility very seriously,” he said. The task team also included academic staff, particularly from humanities, as well as union and student representatives. “We wanted to make sure that the team was as representative as possible,” said Professor Maserumule.

They then established working groups — essentially technical groups ‘’led by people who are experts in certain fields that relate to this important task,” he said. These four working groups, which had to consider resources and implementationactivities, were:

  • Working Group One focused on languages of teaching and learning and was led by the late Professor Charles Mann of the Department of Applied Languages;
  • Working Group Two focused on languages of communication and was led by Ms Brenda Watson, Director of Corporate Affairs and Marketing;
  • Working Group Three focused on the promotion of South African indigenous languages not selected for teaching and learning, and was led by Dr Itani Mandende  of the Department of Department of Applied Languages;  and
  • Working Group Four focused on the role of higher education in preparing sufficient language teachers, interpreters, translators and other practitioners to serve the needs of a diverse South Africa’s multilingual society, and it was led by Dr Madikwa Segabutla of the Department of Applied Languages.

Benchmarking the process

In a similar approach to peer-reviewing articles for publication in journals, TUT’s task team had opted for expert engagement to review and assess their plans. They had approached experts from other South African universities, namely Nelson Mandela University, North-West University, the Vaal University of Technology, the University of South Africa, and the University of Cape Town to review the policy, “just to benchmark ourselves”, he said. “We asked colleagues who are not part of TUT to give us an honest, independent opinion on whether we’re doing the right things or not.”

They had also engaged with internal stakeholders such as Senate committees and the faculties. The external stakeholders they had engaged with were “relevant organisations with an interest in language policies,” he said.

They had also subjected the drafts to a handful of people for “critical external reading”.

Professor Maserumule said: “It is anticipated that the approved policy will transform and decolonise the university in the following areas:  language of teaching and learning, language of scholarship, language of communication, human resources, transformation, language of signage, and also naming and renaming”.

The 40 CoPAL members in attendance were representing public universities across the country.

Audience questions and comments

Professor Maserumule’s presentation elicited a lot of discussion. Audience comments and questions included:Question: “Did you also include the implementation plan in your policy?” and “The policy sitting in the office of the DVC of teaching and learning is excellent but is there a university structure, for example, a board, which will oversee that all the faculties abide by the policies?’’ – Professor Hlongwa, CoPAL’s Chairperson and Dean and Head of the School of Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Professor Maserumule: If you develop a policy and you don’t implement it, the policy become useless. In our key performance area, under transformation, as a dean, as a head of department, we are being monitored in terms of what are we doing in our faculty about translating things into practice.

Mr Mahlubi Mabizela (USAf’s Director: Operations and Sector Support and former Chief Director: University Education Policy and Development Support at the Department of Higher Education and Training until April 2023): The question asked about the implementation plan is not only for TUT. When I was at DHET, we requested all institutions to develop implementation plans alongside revising their policies. And the budget goes hand in hand with the implementation plan.

Professor Maserumule: “On the question of costing, our EMC (executive management committee) is very committed in this regard., budget is an inherent part of implementation. So, we are directly being held accountable as leaders of academic projects. Even in council, when a DVC reports, they are asked questions about ‘how far are you in terms of implementing this policy that we approved?’. So, there are structures of accountability.

Comment One: The student voice – it’s just not enough that you include them. The students come and go and sometimes we tend to forget about them, it shouldn’t just be window dressing with them. And the structure for the language policy shouldn’t be a committee. At some universities committees don’t have teeth. A Board is highly commended — and it must include students, and professional services staff.  People tend to think that because we’re in academia, it’s all about teaching and learning, especially when the structure is under the DVC of Teaching and Learning.  So, we need both the student voice and the non-teaching staff.” – Professor Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Deputy Chairperson of CoPAL, and Director of the Multilingualism Education Project in the Centre for Higher Education Development HED at the University of Cape Town.

Comment Two: I have initiated that we report to both the DVC Academic and the DVC Institutional Support because we want to touch on students’ lives, support staff and on registration and other operational aspects. For us, language cuts across all these, and you have to look at being inclusive. – Dr Maria Modiope, Director of the Language and Transformation Unit at Walter Sisulu University 

Comment Three: I like your challenging the norm, where everything rests with the Registrar’s office. The DVC: Teaching and Learning is where these things should be.  I didn’t hear the students’ involvement in this. I believe the entire university community needs to be represented, including the unions. And I also like the point that we shouldn’t just be seeing  this process as transformation, but as decolonisation.  – Professor Mpume Zondi, Head of Department of African Languages at the University of Pretoria

In closing, Professor Maserumele said that the language unit that they wish to set up to coordinate all implementation activities will feed directly to the DVC of Teaching and Learning. “So, if there are challenges, they can immediately be attended to. On consultation and inclusivity, the first question Council asked when we requested policy approval was: ‘did you consult all the stakeholders, the students in particular? We put emphasis on students, because without them, there is no university’.

“On the departmental level, we’ve got what we call house committees, and there are leaders of students there, replicated at the faculty level, and across the university community.”

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer with Universities South Africa.