English or Afrikaans at a South African University?

December 2, 2015

Stellenbosch University’s governing council has set aside a November proposal by university management to elevate English above Afrikaans as the institution’s primary language of instruction and communication in favor of keeping a 2014 policy that grants the languages equal status.

Some students at the South African university see the council’s decision as a rejection of inclusiveness and university transformation, as News 24 reported. Students argue that many black students fail because they struggle with Afrikaans.

In a statement, George Steyn, the chairman of the university council, disputed the characterization of the council’s actions as exclusionary. Steyn said university management “would like to provide full support in English to students who have an insufficient command of Afrikaans, without it being to the detriment of the Afrikaans academic offering.”

"I regard the council's motion as a very strong signal to all stakeholders of the university that we are committed to inclusivity and the expansion of teaching languages at the institution,” Steyn said. “For us multilingualism is a strategic asset; it makes us unique and gives us a competitive advantage over other institutions."

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