Stellenbosch University amended its language policy due to political pressure and not for practical reasons, the lobby group Gelyke Kanse/Equal Opportunities claims in papers before the Constitutional Court.

A report in Die Burger notes that the group will argue its case before the top court today.

It wants to reverse a language policy decision that made English the primary medium of instruction and replace it with a policy that allows students to choose to be instructed in either English or Afrikaans. Equal Opportunities says there is no rational explanation on why the university changed its stance on the language issue.

‘It is, however, clear that it was caused by student unrest.’

It claims there was a proposal in the university council that a policy with equal standing for both languages be accepted, to which the chairperson allegedly responded that the university ‘would burn’ if that were to happen.

Furthermore, the university had not taken into account the costs of translation services before deciding that it was not practicable to retain two languages of instruction, they argue.

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The university denies that political pressure and protests led to the policy change, another report in Die Burger notes. The university, which is defending the action, says the language policy ‘supports the promotion of a transforming student experience’.

Spokesperson Susan van der Merwe says English is not the only medium of instruction at the university and the High Court has already held that its language policy is in line with the Constitution and the government’s language policy for higher education.

The policy says all information should be communicated in English and, if there is a need, and students insist, it could be ‘supplemented with a summary in Afrikaans’. For first-year modules, real-time interpreters will be made available. By their final year, the medium of instruction is only English.

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