The University of Free stated has been granted leave to appeal a court ruling against their new English language policy by the Bloemfontein High Court.

THE UNIVERSITY of the Free State (UFS) was granted leave to appeal a ruling by the Bloemfontein High Court this week which had stopped a proposed change of the teaching medium to English from Afrikaans.

The ruling had been issued after a complaint brought by Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum.

UFS is one of several universities in the country that has been battling with language-related protests and court cases, many of which have caused racial divisions among students. Earlier this year, the UFS council decided to adopt English as the main language of instruction across its campuses. Afriforum decided to challenge the decision in the court and won.

Speaking on the possibility of removing Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at UFS Afriforum deputy CEO Alana Baily said, “It will be a huge tragedy if that happens.”

Afriforum has dismissed the critism of Afrikaans as a barrier to transformation at university institutions, an allegation which they believe is untrue. According to Bailey, maintaining Afrikaans as the language of instruction at UFS will allow for the development of other languages in universities across the country.

“If English is the single choice, the chance that any other language will develop at universities is slim, and you will just see English become more dominant,” she said.

The University of Pretoria (UP) is another of the institutions who are trying to change their language policies while facing opposition despite students being less interested in Afrikaans. “A key factor in the deliberations was the declining proportion of students expressing a preference for Afrikaans as a medium of instruction,” said UP media relations specialist Anna-Retha Bouwer.

Afriforum has said it will appeal to international authorities in the event that the South African courts rule against them because they believe that learning in Afrikaans is a “constitutional right”.

“The constitution says you have the right to education in the language of your choice where it on offer,” said Bailey.

UFS has been instructed to put all plans regarding language policy at the university on hold because the matter is currently before the courts. Meanwhile, Bouwer said UP is waiting for the  minister of higher education and training to amend statutes governing universities before continuing with language policy changes.

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