Language Skills for Higher Education in Tanzania

Josephat Rugemalira


This paper examines the language proficiency problem in higher education in Tanzania and shows that this is a familiar problem in countries that use a foreign or second language in education. It argues that the much utilized ‘University of Dar es Salaam Model’ of Communications Skills courses has not had the expected impact on this problem and calls for a radical departure from current practice. The paper proposes two policy options to the higher education establishment in Tanzania with regard to the issue of the languages of education. The first option requires the establishment of a strict filtering mechanism in order to exclude all applicants who do not possess the English language skills required in an English medium university. The second option seeks to develop a bilingual language policy for higher education. This would allow partial use of Kiswahili in the system e.g. in lectures,
seminar discussions and examinations, even while most literature has to be accessed in English.

Key words: language proficiency, English medium university, strict filtering mechanism, bilingual language policy for higher education, Kiswahili

Full Text:



Atetwe, J. (2013). Analysis of the Influence of Mother Tongue on

Students’ Performance in English in KCSE in Public Day Secondary Schools in Gatundu District, Kiambu County, Kenya. M.A. Thesis, Catholic University of East Africa.

Australia Government. (2013). Quality Assessment: English Language Proficiency – Terms of Reference. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

Baker, C. (2001). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (3rd ed). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Barasa, L. P. (1997). English Language Teaching in the Kenyan Secondary School: Policy, Training and Practice. PhD thesis. University of Hull.

BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation]. (2005). School Language

Decline Continues.[]

Boston Globe. (2005). Language may be Key for Next Pope; John

Paul II’s Abilities set High Standard. 15 April 2005

British Academy. (2015). Language Choice in Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities. Summary of a workshop discussion organized by the British Academy in partnership with the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient. Yangon, Myanmar Feb 2015.

British Council. (2015). The State of English in Higher Education in

Turkey: A Baseline Study. London.

Brock-Utne, B. (2004). English as the Language of Instruction or Destruction – How do Teachers and Students in Tanzania Cope? In B. Brock-Utne, Z. Desai & M. Qorro (eds.). Researching the Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa. Cape Town: African Minds: 57–84.

Brock-Utne, B. & Desai, Z. (2005). Expressing Oneself through Writing: A Comparative Study of Learners’ Writing Skills in Tanzania and South Africa. In B. Brock-Utne, Z. Desai & M. Qorro (eds.). LOITASA Research in Progress. Dar es Salaam: KAD Associates: 224–253.

CIMO [Centre for International Mobility]. (2009). Degree Programmes Taught through a Foreign Language in Finnish Higher Education.




Chan, S. H. & Abdullah, A. N. (2015). Bilingualism in Malaysia: Language Education Policy and Local Needs. Social Sciences & Humanities, 23(S): 55–70.

Coleman, H. (ed.) (2011). Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language. London: British Council. Coleman, J. A. 2006. English-medium Teaching in European Higher Education. Language Teaching, 39(1): 1–14.

Criper, C. & Dodd, W. (1984). Report on the Teaching of the English Language and its Use as a Medium of Education in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: British Council. Daily Express. Independent National Newspaper of East Malaysia. 5 November 2015.

Dearden, J. (2014). English as a Medium of Instruction: A Growing

Global Phenomenon. London: British Council.

Han, Z. H. & Selinker, L. (2005). Fossilization in L2 Learners. In E.

Hinkel (ed.). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 455–470.

Hilmarsson-Dunn, A. (2009). The Impact of English on Language Education Policy in Iceland. European Journal of Language Policy, 1(1): 39–59.

Hinkel, E. (ed.) (2005). Handbook of Research in Second Language

Teaching and Learning. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hong Kong Government. (1986). Education Commission Report No.

Education Bureau. [


Jayaram, N. (1993). The Language Question in Higher Education:

Trends and Issues. Perspectives on Higher Education in India, 26(1): 93–114.

Kagwesage, A. M. (2013). Coping with English as Language of Instruction in Higher Education in Rwanda. International Journal of Higher Education, 2(2): 1–12.

Kembo-Sure & Ogechi, N. O. (2016). Literacy through a Foreign Language and Children’s Rights to Education: An Examination of Kenya’s Medium of Instruction Policy. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 25(1): 92–106.

Lindberg, J. & Narman, A. (2005). Special Situation on Language

and Education in Sri Lanka: From Self-reliance to Neoliberalism. In IB. Brock-Utne, Z. Desai & M. Qorro (eds.). Loitasa Research in Progress. Dar es Salaam: KAD Associates: 307–324.

Maalim, H. A. (2015). The Replacement of Swahili Medium of Instruction by English from Grade 5 in Zanzibar: From Complementary to Contradictory. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 24(1): 45–62.

Master, P. (2005). Research in English for Specific Purposes. In E. Hinkel (ed.). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 99–115.

Mlama, P. & Matteru, M. (1978). Haja ya Kutumia Kiswahili Kufundishia katika Elimu ya Juu. Dar es Salaam: BAKITA.

Msuya, E. (2011). Communications Skills Course Relevance and

Effectiveness at the University of Dar es Salaam. PhD Thesis, University of Dar es Salaam.

Namuchwa, C. E. (2007). Challenges of Using English as a Medium

of Instruction in the Upper Part of Primary Schools in Rural Uganda: A Case of one Primary School in Mpigi District. PhD Thesis, University of Oslo.

New Times. (2015). Pass English or Repeat: How Best can Universities Deal with Proficiency Tests? [Solomon Asaba, August 19, 2015]. Kigali – Rwanda.

Nyerere, J. (1968). Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism. Dar es Salaam:


Osaki, K. (2008). Matriculation Examinations and Relevance. UDASA Newsletter.

Osbiston, R. (1982). Communication Skills in the University of Dar

es Salaam: A Personal Overview of the CSU in its First Four Years. ms. University of Dar es Salaam.

Puteh, A. (2010). The Language Medium Policy in Malaysia: A Plural Society Model? Review of European Studies, 2(2): 192–200.

Rugemalira, J. (1990). The Communication Skills Unit and the

Language Problemat the University of Dar es Salaam. In C.Rubagumya (ed.). Language in Education in Africa: Tanzanian Perspectives. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters: 105– 122.

Rugemalira, J. (2013). Language Policy and Planning: The Tanzania

Experience. In P. Akumbu & B. Chiatoh (eds.). Language Policy in Africa: Perspectives for Cameroon. Kansas City: Miraclaire Publishing: 62–97.

Samuelson, B. L. & Freedman, S. W. (2010). Language Policy, Multilingual Education and Power in Rwanda. Language Policy, 9(3): 191–215.

South Africa Government. (2002). Language Policy for Higher

Education. Ministry of Education.

Tanzania Government. (1969). The Second Five Year Plan for

Economic and Social Development 1969–1974. Volume 1, General Analysis. Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania Government. (1982). Mfumo wa Elimu ya Tanzania 1981 –

Ripoti ya Mapendekezo ya Tume ya Rais ya Elimu.

Tanzania Government. (1995a). Education (Amendment) Act.

Tanzania Government. (1995b). Education and Training Policy.

Tanzania Government. (2014a). Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania (BEST). Dar es Salaam: Prime Minister’s Office –Regional Administration & Local Government.

Tanzania Government. (2014b). Sera ya Elimu na Mafunzo ya Ufundi.

Theodoridis, D. (2015). Internationalization of Higher Education:

Teaching Challenges in an International, Multicultural Classroom.

Department of Economy and Society, Göteborg University,

Sweden. ms. []

Treffers-Daller, J. (2005). Code-Switching. Sociolinguistics: An

International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society (2nd ed.). Vol. 2. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter: 1469–1482.

UDSM (University of Dar es Salaam). (1999). Report on the 1998

UDSM Academic Audit.

UDSM (University of Dar es Salaam). (2004). Tracer Studies in a

Quest for Academic Improvement. Dar es Salaam University Press.

University World News. English as the Lingua Franca of Higher

Education? Paul Rigg 22 November 2013 Issue No. 297.


Uwezo. (2011). Are Our Children Learning? Numeracy and Literacy

across East Africa. Dar es Salaam: Twaweza East Africa.

West, R., Güven, A., Parry, J. & Ergenekon, T. (2015). The State of

English in Higher Education in Turkey: A Baseline Study.

London: British Council.

Zakharia, Z. (2010). Language and Vulnerability: How Educational

Policies Exacerbate Inequalities in Higher Education.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

 [ISSN 0856-9965 (Print)]