Stellenbosch University: SU is committed to multilingualism

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The DA and Studenteplein’s court application against Stellenbosch University (SU), SU Council and SU Senate (‘the respondents’) was heard on Monday 15 August 2022 in the High Court in Cape Town. The court application (amended on the day of the hearing) was brought for a court order to:

In terms of section 172(1)(a) of the Constitution of South Africa, declare that the decisions of SU Senate and its committees in the four semesters in 2020 and 2021 to deviate from the provisions of the SU Language Policy (approved on 22 June 2016) and to make changes to the faculties’ Language Implementation Plans, was unconstitutional, unlawful and a violation of the 2016 Language Policy.
In terms of section 172(1)(a) of the Constitution, to order the respondents to comply with the SU Language Policy (approved on 2 December 2021) when decisions are made about the language of instruction of individual modules.
Order the respondents to bear the applicants’ costs, including the costs of the two advocates.
The University welcomes the judgement of the High Court that the Senate (and its committees) did not violate the policy as alleged, and that the declaratory relief – asking for an order that the Senate decision and changes in the faculties’ language implementation plans are unconstitutional, unlawful and in violation of the 2016 policy – is dismissed. The University also welcomes the ruling that the request for an order directing the University to comply with par. 7.4.4 of the Language Policy, falls away due to the above mentioned dismissal of the declaratory relief.

The ruling by Judge Cloete confirms SU’s ongoing point of view that there was no deviation from the Language Policy (2016), but rather consulted and approved changes to certain language arrangements of certain faculties. SU’s Language Policy (2016) made full provision for this.

It further serves as confirmation that the University acted in good faith during the Covid-19 pandemic when various sectors, including universities, had to very quickly find new ways of working and implement emergency measures. The challenge and impact of pivoting all courses online within a short period of time in March 2020 cannot be emphasised enough. Because a large volume of additional online material had to be developed with the almost immediate and complete move from residential to online teaching in the midst of a national lockdown, the workload put extraordinary pressure on lecturers. It would have been almost impossible to expect lecturers to offer all new learning material in both English and Afrikaans in the relevant circumstances.

Learning material that already existed in Afrikaans was still provided to students in Afrikaans and lecturers were strongly recommended is to use the Language Centre’s services. Certain new learning materials were indeed made available in Afrikaans and several English podcasts were translated into Afrikaans. Assessments were also available in Afrikaans and English.

SU’s goal now, after all Covid-19 containment rules have been lifted and all students and staff have finally returned to the campuses for full in-person lectures and tutorials and teaching in the lecture halls, is to make sure that we resume our activities on our respective campuses as soon as possible. We also have to ensure that there is a good and productive transition between what students and staff were forced to get used to over a distance and online in 2020 and 2021, and what has now again become possible and important for the University as a quality residential university.

“With the removal of the stringent social distancing and other regulations linked to Covid-19, and with us moving back to full face-to-face in-classroom learning and teaching, the University is focusing on ensuring that the Language Policy 2021 is fully implemented as per the Language Implementation Plans of faculties and responsibility centres. We move forward together in promoting multilingualism within our institution through the Language Policy,” says Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching.

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