Dr Thandi Lewin, Deputy Director-General: University Education in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), said she knew people had asked a lot of questions about the implementation of the government’s revised Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions, set to kick in from January 2022: “What is DHET doing about it?” “How are we going to facilitate this?” “How are we going to resource this?”
Lewin (left) set about addressing these concerns in her presentation during the session on Resources for the Implementation of the Language Policy Framework at the online Colloquium on the New Language Policy for Higher Education.
Stellenbosch University hosted the event which was held from 28 to 29 September under the auspices of Universities South Africa (USAf), as a joint project with USAf’s Community of Practice for the Teaching and Learning of African Languages (CoPAL).
She said the language policy framework was a national imperative. It was about the educational imperatives of universities developing graduates for a transforming society. “So, there is no one funding source that will solve this problem. And there are very likely no magic solutions,” she said.
The department was exploring the possibility of a collaborative implementation strategy, which she wanted to stress was very important. “This is not a government-only policy framework that will be implemented from the top. This is something that we have a shared responsibility for.
“In fact, it’s not just an imperative of higher education, it’s an imperative of our national policy frame, it’s an imperative for our country. And therefore, we need system-wide alignment. And we are going to have to work together with USAf, with CoPAL in particular, with the Teaching and Learning Strategy Group, quite likely also with the NIHSS (the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences), which has a key focus on African languages. And I want to emphasise the need for that collaboration,” she said.
She understood this meant the department needed to engage with universities on many levels in terms of the implementation. They intended to establish and implement a funding model to support language development initiatives. “But these will be based on language development plans, which will need to be submitted before funding can be available,” she said. The department was working on evaluation criteria for those plans and developing the supporting implementation guidelines.
They would have to monitor the impact of the language policy to establish the extent to which implementation was achieving its desired results. Universities would be required to report on this in terms of their language plans and strategies, she said.
Ultimately, institutions are going to be responsible for preparing sufficient language teachers, interpreters, translators and other language practitioners to serve the needs of our multilingual society – “as they are (already) doing,” she said.
Why the earlier policy had to be revised
She said the 2002 “Language Policy for Higher Education” had needed revision to be transformed into the policy framework of 2020 because it:
- promoted multilingualism but lacked clear guidelines on how it was to be realised;
- did not have any enforcement mechanism;
- had very few consequences for non-compliance;
- had very little clear alignment with the curriculum and language development at the basic education level; and
- lacked specifics on the language of teaching and learning, and medium of instruction.
She said a very important part of the policy is fostering multilingualism and “making sure that our universities reflect this multilingual diversity of our country in the way in which they operate;” but it was not expected that all institutions would emphasise all the languages. “Obviously there are regional dimensions to this, but there’s also the need for collaboration to ensure that across the system, as a whole, we have effective development,” she said.
Setting up partnerships
She said South Africa was likely to be in its current fiscal constraints for some time, particularly because of the effects of the CoViD- 19 pandemic. The fiscus was unlikely to be able to fund everything. So, the DHET was looking at multiple resourcing and funding possibilities.
There was a need “for a purposeful and targeted approach to providing support for the implementation of the policy framework. And as the department we are exploring what those funding modalities might look like”, she said, and they would be discussing this with the higher education sector.
They needed national partnerships. They hoped they could provide some stimulus from departmental funding, with support from others, and were looking at what she referred to as their “sister government departments” such as Science and Innovation, and Sports, Arts and Culture”, as well as structures such as the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).
“Donor funding is a possibility,” she said.
They were also considering a collaborative grant through the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP). The UCDP has a specific set of focus areas around supporting student success, teaching and learning, curriculum development and innovation. Many aspects of the work being done in institutions are in line with these objectives and could be supported through collaborative grants. It needed to be collaborative grants because institutions would need to receive individualised funds to support this, she said.
“This collaboration across the university sector is going to be absolutely critical to ensure we are actively developing all languages, and limit the duplication that’s going on,” she said.
“And there is going to be a requirement that universities use their own funding as part of the developments in teaching and learning and research and other core aspects of the university,” she said.
The value of the colloquium
She said the colloquium had been fascinating and “really helping us a lot, as the department, to think about some of the challenges of this policy framework, and some of the really exciting work taking place in our institutions that we can build upon.”
It was encouraging that a lot of the material and ideas that have already been developed are being shared in forums like this colloquium, and that a lot of it is available as open-source software, which allows for it be distributed for free.
“If we can continue in this way, we will be able to affect the system at a broader level,” she said.
“What’s so important about this colloquium is that there is such high-level leadership. This is a matter that the highest leadership of our institutions are taking very seriously. We are already quite far down the line in terms of that, and it’s really very exciting to see there’s such a commitment to addressing this issue, and to debating, and grappling with what it means for all of us,” said Lewin.
The way ahead
The DHET could see the new language policy framework becoming “a massive development in the system over time. But this is something that we are going to have to grow slowly,” she said.
They needed to demonstrate solid progress, she said, and show incremental developments in line with the funding availability. “And this is something that we’re going to have to debate and discuss in terms of priorities. And in terms of meaningfully progressing the goals of the policy,” she said.
She said the importance of monitoring was going to be a big discussion, as well as the sharing of good practices and resources, which had already begun at the colloquium.
DHET would also need to look at quality assurance and the role of the Council on Higher Education (CHE).
“Certainly the department has a role in stimulating this work, providing the guidelines and some financial support, as well as providing realistic oversight of policy implementation,” said Dr Lewin.
Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa