The use of language criteria for admission to higher education in South Africa: issues of bias and fairness investigated

  • Elize Koch Department of Psychology, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7353, South Africa
  • Jacqui Dornbrack Department of Applied Languages Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, PO Box 77000, Port Elizabeth 6031


The implementation of the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) has necessitated the setting of new admission criteria for higher education (HE), both nationally and at an institutional level. In addition to setting their own point criteria in relation to the NSC, many institutions have chosen to set additional language criteria for admission, which have a bearing on only one or two languages (the current language(s) of teaching and learning, English and Afrikaans), despite the fact that these institutions have adopted multilingual language policies which include one or more African languages as additional languages of teaching and learning. This article problematises this response. A case study of an HE institution is presented, firstly in order to highlight the processes adopted by the institution's newly developed Language Policy Implementation Committee (LPIC) to challenge the English-only criteria proposed initially, and, secondly, to provide empirical evidence of the bias and differential access that would result from such English-only criteria. The discussions between members of the LPIC and the admissions committees led to the adoption of multilingual language admission criteria, even though the main language of learning and teaching (LoLT) has remained English.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2008, 26(3): 333–350

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614