Academics & staff at Stellenbosch University throw their weight behind the campaign to adopt English

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A GROUP of academics and staff members at Stellenbosch University have thrown their weight behind the campaign to adopt English as the main language of instruction at the institution.

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the academics said the use of English as the language of instruction and business at the university would enable the institution to move beyond its political past.

“This decision (to adopt English) will provide the university the opportunity to become a truly South African university that is open and accessible to all our country’s students and staff as well as from other parts of Africa and beyond,” the academics said. The statement was endorsed by 226 Stellenbosch University academics and professional support staff members.

The rector’s management team said at the weekend that from next year the primary language of communication and administration at the university would be English.

But university spokeswoman Susan van der Merwe said the statement by the management team was issued as a discussion document to indicate its support for measures to improve the learning experience for students who did not have an academic literacy in Afrikaans.

The document is likely to be tabled before council later in November. Only council can approve changes to the language policy with the concurrence of senate.

But some council members have indicated that they will not support the proposal to adopt English as the main language of instruction.

Council member Piet le Roux told BDlive at the weekend that he would not support the proposal. “I consider the announcement as contrary to council policy and made in bad faith,” said Mr le Roux.

It is understood that most members of the 30-member council want English and Afrikaans to be given equal status.

But the group of academics said in their statement that council should not stand in the way of “ensuring that the university is a genuinely inclusive educational environment for all its students and staff”.

“This backlash effectively celebrates the ‘exclusivity’ of Afrikaans and closes the door on the university’s ability to embrace different people from a wide range of cultures and language groups,” the group said.

Student lobby group Open Stellenbosch has been protesting against the university’s language policy for most of the year, arguing that the policy “safeguards Afrikaner culture” and excludes black students.

The group this week handed over an alternative language policy to the rector’s management team. The document states, among other things, that the primary medium of instruction should be English and substantial learning support should be provided in other official languages according to the needs of students.

“All assessments will be in English and, where feasible and reasonably practicable, other official languages according to the needs of students and capabilities of staff,” the document reads.

The document is also likely to be discussed when council meets on November 30.

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