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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


DU PLESSIS, Theodorus. The revision of language policy at the University of the Free State, 2003-2015. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.1048-1070. ISSN 2224-7912.

The article offers an overview of language policy review at the University of the Free State (UFS), from the inception of the university council's 2003 language policy up to the adoption of an entirely new policy in March 2016. This overview is undertaken against the background of theoretical insights about the role of the evaluation of effective policy implementation in policy review at higher education institutions. Several studies as well as some institutional reports since then have suggested that the UFS language policy needed to be reconsidered in view of drastically changing demographics in particular. The underlying question that is considered in terms of relevant documentation available in the public space is therefore why the UFS did not respond earlier to warnings about the inappropriateness of a policy that had been implemented under completely different conditions back in 2003. Departing from international studies on policy review, the study specifically looks at the role of regulative factors in policy review. This is done in terms of an analysis of external core reports that, as far back as 2006 already, recorded shortcomings requiring corrective actions by the UFS. The role of specifically two reports published during 2008, namely the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) institutional audit report and the Ministerial Committee's report on transformation and social cohesion and the elimination of discrimination in public higher education institutions (the so-called Soudien report), are considered. Incidentally, they are also foregrounded in a transformation report issued by the UFS towards the end of 2014, which turns out to have provided a basis for reinventing language problems that could eventually be used as a rationale for changing the UFS language policy. As these reports have identified a range of shortcomings in the 2003 language policy, the study was specifically interested in how the mentioned transformation report presented these findings and how the UFS responded - aspects the transformation report omits. From publicly available documents, it is clear that the UFS has indeed responded appropriately and even revised aspects of implementing the existing language policy. With the changeover to a new leadership during 2009, these measures were not followed through and not even mentioned at all after 2010. Among others, the study finds that the UFS nevertheless did attempt language policy revisions in 2010 and 2012, which led to instilling a more pragmatic approach to language policy implementation. After the 2010 review, the notion was adopted of a university that (still) used English and Afrikaans as media of instruction, but not necessarily within a framework of absolute parallel-medium teaching and where English was used as a kind of mediating language within multicultural situations. Other policies were revised to reflect this new approach, among them the policy on the UFS's branding identity, employment equity and integration in hostels. After the 2012 revision, the notion was adopted that parallel-medium education will be offered where possible and practicable and that the use of Southern Sotho within the teaching and learning environment will be increased. These measures partly responded to the dwindling number of Afrikaans students that still opted for Afrikaans classes (by 2012 already below 30% of all students). The changes resulting from these two reviews notably went further than the corrective actions undertaken before 2010 under the former management. They were nevertheless not mentioned in the UFS's transformation report, nor did they feature in the 2015 review process. In order to reconstruct the entire 2015 language review process (which is the actual focus of the study), the run-up to the surprising announcement about a language policy review is studied in some detail. Neither the 2014 annual institutional report nor the UFS's 2015-2020 strategic plan (finalised towards the end of 2014) mentions any of the kind of concerns about the institutional language policy that were raised during 2015. On the contrary, this strategic plan in particular still reaffirms the status quo position regarding language. One therefore has to assume that consistent pressure from the Department of Higher Education and Training by means of the mechanisms envisaged by the 2008 Soudien report, the role of the Director of the UFS's Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice and the increased demand for transformation from student quarters as a by-product of the #RhodesMustFall campaign, have all contributed to a change of heart by the university management regarding the language issue. In stark contrast with the position adopted towards the end of 2014, it was subsequently argued that the 2003 language policy was found to be inappropriate to promote "transformation at the institution", a phrase that began to be propagated in official announcements and press releases. The article concludes that, because of a degree of neglect to execute actual language policy revisions (and thereby aligning revisions made in other policies) the university's management was eventually caught off guard by increased demands for transformation from all quarters. By inadvertently creating a hostile intellectual climate about the position of Afrikaans, the leadership could probably succeed - without any policy revision - to remove the existing bilingual language policy and replace it with a predominantly monolingual language policy. One therefore wonders whether Afrikaans became the culprit for the lack of proper and regular evaluation of a range of measures that were implemented at different stages in an attempt to realign the 2003 language policy with the changing circumstances at the UFS. In the end, this case demonstrates the importance of a meta-policy that helps to steer a university such as the UFS through troubled waters within an overall unstable higher education environment.

Keywords : Double-medium education; Monolingualism; Multilingualism; Multiculturalism; Medium of instruction; Education language policy; Parallel-medium education; Language policy; Language policy higher education; Language policy evaluation; Language policy review; Language diversity; Bilingualism.

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