The university council of the University of the Free State has resolved to take up English as the main language of instruction across its campuses and this will start-up in the next academic session in 2017.
The university happens to be one of the several universities in the country that has faced language-related protests, many of which turned violent and created divisions between students.
But this would change in the 2017 academic year as all first-year students will be taught in English while those who enrolled prior to the decision being taken will continue their degrees as per enrollment in Afrikaans.
Last year, UFS council was mandated to review its language policy and, after a unanimous vote, it was decided that English would be the primary medium of instruction of undergraduate and postgraduate students at its Bloemfontein, QwaQwa and South campuses.
According to the university spokesman Lacea Loader, some professional programmes particularly those who were studying to teach Afrikaans and theological students who wished to minister at traditional Afrikaans-speaking churches would be exempted from the new decision.
“This arrangement must not undermine the values of inclusivity and diversity endorsed by the UFS,” she said.
Speaking on this, the AfriForum spokesman Alana Bailey said the organisation did not agree with the university’s language policy as its demographics excluded Afrikaans- and Sesotho-speaking students.
Bailey said the Bloemfontein campus students still prefer Afrikaans, given the area’s demographics, at least one of the three campuses should offer Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. In the long run English will be the only language catered for. There needs to be promotion of Afrikaans and Sesotho,” he added.
She said AfriForum is considering challenging the decision through the courts as it had made known its opinion on the matter during the consultation process but its yet to received feedback.
Meanwhile, the UFS Student Representative Council president Lindokuhle Ntuli noted that the new change was what they have been advocating for,as the students are weary of the several division and racial debacles under the parallel medium.
Higher Education Transformation Network national spokesman Hendrick Makaneta said the change was a welcomed idea and that though it does not signify a “complete victory” in the battle for transformation but it was a positive start.
Students of other higher institutions like the University of Pretoria and the University of Stellenbosch have also called for English to be the main language of instruction Though it’s yet to find a solution to its language issues. A language forum has been established which has proposed that all lectures be taught in English.
The University of Stellenbosch has until the end of this month to implement its 2014 language policy requiring students to be taught in English and Afrikaans in separate classes. The university was taken to court for failing to ensure that lecturers were adhering to the dual-language instruction policy
“Some of our students from rural areas have problems with English as a medium of instruction, especially in their first year of study,” said university spokesman Susan van der Merwe.
“For this reason the university is expanding its parallel-medium offering [separate classes in English and Afrikaans] where viable. This is applicable to classes of 250-plus students.”
The High Court granted the university an extended deadline until March 29 to implement its language policy of 2014.