English for inclusion or exclusion in tertiary education in South Africa

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English in higher education in South Africa: inclusion or exclusion

MIDP symposium, Bloemfontein, 24-27 April, 2006

Vic Webb, CentRePoL, UP

  1. Introduction

Since 1994, HE in SA has become almost exclusively English, even in the case of the former HAUs (the former RAU, UFS, UP, UPotch and US) where English has become or is becoming the main MoI, as well as the major language of research, community service, management and administration. At the same time, African languages are not meaningfully being developed as LoS at any SA university, despite some universities having adopted language policies which are aimed at promoting these languages.1

There are several factors that are responsible for the Englishification2 of SA universities, such as:

  • The constitutional and educational requirements of equity, accessibility, and redress (in HE)

  • The expressed preference of the government for bilingual educational institutions (including universities) in the belief that such institutions would facilitate national integration3

  • The merging of HE institutions, in particular the former RAU and Potch, who were merged with institutions in which only English was used

  • The overwhelming demand from (black) students that training programmes be taught in English (crudely expressed on a placard in a protest march at the former RAU: “Afrikaans is kak”)

  • The government’s general language policy practice of English monolingualism, particularly in light of the fact that linguistic regimes put in place by political regimes have a strong impact on the language beliefs and behaviour of citizens: bi- and multilingualism are clearly not strong concerns of the South African government.

  • The underestimation of language management by university decision-makers, who seemed to think that the development of language policies was enough and that plans of policy implementation were not needed

The Englishification of HAUs in SA can be illustrated with reference to the UP.

Until the early 1990s, UP was a mainly white, almost wholly Afrikaans university, with all functions being performed mainly in Afrikaans. Since then, UP has become significantly black and, given the language politics of SA, increasingly English. These developments are apparent from the following:

(a) Changing student profile at UP

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