Collaboration Highlighted at Third Vice-Chancellor’s Colloquium on Language Policy in Higher Education

Delegates at the Vice-Chancellors’ Language Policy Colloquium hosted by UKZN.

Collaboration Highlighted at Third Vice-Chancellor’s Colloquium on Language Policy in Higher Education

A two-day colloquium co-hosted by UKZN provided a platform for exchanging best practices and discussing the challenges encountered while implementing the language policy framework at respective institutions.

UKZN partnered with Universities South Africa (USAf) in hosting the 3rd Vice-Chancellors’ Language Policy Colloquium on the Intersection of Policy and Practice: Best Practices on the Implementation of Language Policy in Higher Education – Monitoring and Evaluation.

In his welcome address, UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize said he was confident the colloquium would advance the University’s efforts towards multilingualism and the intellectualisation of South Africa’s indigenous languages. ‘As UKZN, we take pride in hosting this significant platform to have valuable discussions and share insight and presentations.’

Sharing UKZN’s language accomplishments, he said: ‘This year marks the 16th anniversary of our adoption of the language policy at UKZN, through which we promote and facilitate the use of isiZulu as a language of learning, communication, instruction and administration.

‘Collaborations of this nature have the potential to enhance the advancement of indigenous languages as academic languages by utilising the combined skills, expertise, and resources of participating institutions. This includes fostering research collaborations and developing terminology for various disciplines,’ said Mkhize.

He added that the language policy on Higher Education stated that the challenge facing Higher Education was to ensure the simultaneous development of a multilingual environment in which all South Africa’s languages were developed as academic or scientific languages while at the same time ensuring that the existing languages of instruction did not serve as a barrier to access and success.

The colloquium was attended by vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors, and deans from various universities; the Chief Executive Officer of USAf, Dr Phethiwe Matutu; members of the Community of Practise for African Languages (COPAL), the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) and Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED); language practitioners and students.

Dean and Head of the School of Arts in the College of Humanities and the USAf chairperson of COPAL, Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa said monitoring and evaluation plays an important role in assessing progress, effectiveness, and impact of language policy in Higher Education. She said the colloquium aimed to bring together policymakers, language practitioners, and stakeholders involved in the implementation of language policy in Higher Education.

The first keynote speaker and founding Director of the Hub for Multilingual Education and Literacies at the University of the Witwatersrand Professor Leketi Makalela who spoke on: Moving Beyond the Rhetoric – Implementation of the New Language Policy for Curriculum Transformation and Student Success, said the Department of Education had taken the strategic decision to normalise the use of multi languages in the classroom, planned for 2025. He said it was exciting that the Department of Higher Education had also used seed funding to move from rhetoric to the actual implementation, which previously had not been advancing as expected.

Makalela spoke intensively on identity affirmation, multilingualism, and “translanguaging”, saying the country needed to take a more horizontal approach, adding that language continued to be a barrier to access and success in Higher Education.

‘We need to normalise the normal. Even if you speak an African language you need to learn another language,’ said Makalela, adding there needed to be detailed implementation plans and digitisation.

The two-day gathering heard various presentations and discussions involving several language experts and academics who shared experiences at their institutions.

Delivering the second keynote address, North-West University Vice-Chancellor Professor Bismark Tyobeka spoke on multilingualism as a transformative resource: moving from policy to practice. He said, ‘No language should be given preference at the expense of other languages, and there is no reason why we must castigate our indigenous languages and Afrikaans being one of them’. He said there needs to be more resources for developing indigenous languages using Afrikaans as a benchmark.

He said language is critical to facilitate the knowledge-learning process adding that children who learn one language from an early age make it easier for that child to learn a new language with relative ease at a later stage. However, Tyobeka said for bilingual and multilingual learners, knowing two languages or more from an early age develops an awareness of languages as systems of thinking in the way that numbers are systems of counting.

Sign language specialist in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, Ms Asanda Katshwa highlighted several South African sign language challenges faced by students in Higher Education. Katshwa said Institutions of Higher Learning were not ready to train sign language teachers and that the country had less than 3% of teachers in Deaf schools who fluently used sign language.

Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Western Cape, Professor Bassey E. Antia spoke about funding, diversity, and inclusion. Antia said regarding the recently announced funding to be distributed to qualifying universities, he urged institutions to collaborate and share skills so that the funding could be allocated prudently.

CHED’s Director of Multilingualism Project at the University of Cape Town, Professor Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst summarised the colloquium’s events and highlighted the work ahead.

The colloquium’s full proceedings are available on the University’s YouTube page.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu