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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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


BORNMAN, Elirea; JANSE VAN VUUREN, Hermanus H; PAUW, JC  and  POTGIETER, Petrus H. Globalism and language in higher education: Reasons for choosing English as language of learning. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.1, pp.307-328. ISSN 2224-7912.

The use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction at South African universities has been under fire for some time. This should be considered in the context of the anglicisation of higher education, a global trend related to globalism and the (re-)internationalisation of the university system. The core of this study consists of a content analysis of the responses of Afrikaans-speaking students at the University of South Africa (Unisa) to the question as to why they chose English as their language of study. At the time of the investigation, a number of modules at this university were still available in Afrikaans. When the abolition of Afrikaans as a language of tuition was proposed, the choice of English as the language of instruction by Afrikaans-speaking students was often put forward as justification for such a policy. Relatively little research has been conducted into the reasons for this phenomenon. The study is based on a questionnaire survey among Unisa students who indicated at registration that their home language was Afrikaans, Afrikaans and English as well as students who took modules in Afrikaans. Practical problems such as lecturers being unable to respond in Afrikaans, were often cited. A small number of students reported that university officials dissuaded them from registering in Afrikaans. More significant were perceptions of an advantage associated with a degree completed in English. We discuss such responses within the framework ofthe globalising discourse informed by the idea of the university as a business, the internationalisation of the university, globalisation and globalism. Approximately half the respondents indicated that they studied through the medium of English. Many, nevertheless, reported a sense of pride in the Afrikaans language and supported the idea of Afrikaans as an option for language of instruction. Respondents were given the opportunity to, first, provide reasons for studying in English in free text and then select the most important reason(s) for doing so from a list. The fact that textbooks and other study material are predominantly in English emerged as the most important reason why Afrikaans-speaking students preferred studying in English. It was chosen by more than twice as many respondents as the option "English is the language of business". Since students are only informed about the details regarding their textbook and the fact that study material is available in Afrikaans after registration for a module at Unisa, we suspect that, because of a lack of timely information, anticipated difficulties often play a role in students' selection of English as their medium of instruction. This has implications for South African universities that are considering the extensive use of historically disadvantaged official languages for tuition. It also has consequences for Unisa itself as, in June 2020, the Supreme Court of Appeal reversed the university's decision to discontinue tuition in Afrikaans by declaring its language policy to this effect illegal and unconstitutional. The Court ordered the reinstitution of its previous policy which mandated that certain modules should be available to students in Afrikaans at the discretion of the Senate. Furthermore, students were uncertain whether they had the option to study in Afrikaans. A number of common misconceptions about the universality of English and the perception that Afrikaans subject terminology is clumsy and/or difficult to understand, were noted. Ultimately, it is up to the Afrikaans language community to convince young people that studying in Afrikaans does not imply a disadvantage. It is also of critical importance that tertiary education in Afrikaans should be facilitated by, for example, making textbooks available in Afrikaans and by taking care that terminology is standardised. It was also noted that students who chose to study in English were noticeably less committed not only to the identity of their own language and cultural group, but also to South Africa.

Keywords : Afrikaans; language of tuition; universities; Unisa; globalism; anglicisa-tion; content analysis; language choice; identity; mother tongue learning.

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