The recent trend of suicidal patterns amongst university students highlights the unsupportive nature of elite universities in South Africa. Considered ‘thought leaders’, universities behave as if they are World class institutions that fail to meet African needs.
- Lack of class transition financial management skills. The knowledge offered at our universities continues to produce indebted individuals, more so black graduates and those wishing to eclipse their historically impoverished pasts. Financial literacy is missing even amongst graduates who also end up among amongst the 11 million South Africans considered over-indebted.
Managing personal finances is a topic that is important regardless of which faculty one finds him/herself in. An important encouraging feature for seeking education is to increase one’s employability, for most the education is not an end in itself but a merely tool used to increase chances of improving their material status. The current rate of youth unemployment should hint at the number of individuals actively looking for work instead of using what they learned in school to start something.
- Inability to build truly diversified communities where ideas are shared beyond cultural and racial tolerance. Only once we consider the true extent of legitimate cohesion in these higher education institutions can we really have the necessary nation building conversations. Pity that one of the few environments that allows a coming together of the vast array of what it means to be South African magnifies cultural and racial intolerance. Our social media age finds it normal to travel the world and celebrate other cultures but not the ones they share a classroom with. Much of what goes on in university is directly informed by our backgrounds. Who we sit with, interact with and lines of engagement seem to be influenced heavily by language, race and material atmospheres. We don’t accept our differences but rather tolerate each other just enough to co-exist in the same spaces. These environments reveal the true extent to which our division as a nation has permeated beyond skin colour.
- The quality gap in curriculums between elite Universities and most government schools seems too broad for most students from low earning households to cope with. Unfortunately, that constitutes 95% of South Africa. Added to this, cultural shock, lack of funding and the lack of accommodation cloud mental health issues for many. Sinking into a debt trap or students living like semi hobos contribute to students suicide … not withstanding other factors responsible for the circumstantial depression of our youth.
If you ask most Wits students, on the first day at the university it’s the norm for lecturers to ask you to look at the 4 individuals surrounding you and inform you that only 2 of you are going to graduate. Inevitably, economic circumstances predicates the likeliest students. A depiction of what portion of these 4 students is homeless and hungry has never been assessed, by the way.
- The universities have to be run primarily as businesses rather than institutions that seek to solve South Africa’s many issues. Their aim has become to produce labour forces for the gigantic multinational corporations, be it in the Engineering, Accounting or Legal fields.
Ask any 10 university students what the major issues in our economy are, and you’re are bound to witness just how clueless we are past mumbling exam memorandums with regard to what affects us all. One wonders if the universities identify problem areas and make recommendations to the basic education ministry on how they can help decrease the failure rate. Is the 50% failure rate accepted as fault of the victims, as if they fail intentionally and not as result of the hurdles faced.
- The universities represent the epitome of class exclusion and while preaching an understanding of legacies of our historical economic genocide, fail to accommodate us. It’s not inauguration lectures that change our lives, it’s our access and success within these institutions. The significantly, deliberately disadvantaged must be systematically significantly, deliberately advantaged. Many of these universities have in place forms of charity as measures to include a handful of students, e.g. the problem with asking to give funding only to “the best students” fails to ask two questions:
1) ‘the best based on what?’ (are we asking people to struggle more to be worthy of learning?). Are we saying that those from Sandton should perform equally with those starving and textbook deprived from Limpopo or that those who aren’t struggling enough but match those who struggle in performance are less worthy of setting foot at UCT?
2) Is the solution to any one problem equally systematic in nature as much as the problem is?
In simpler terms justice cannot be solved through charity but through solutions that are naturally self-replenishing. The burden of outthinking such issues cannot be put exclusively on parties outside our ‘brilliant universities that claim successes but not the portion of us they fail’.
In closing I would like to state that I’m a proud Witsie, ironic but true. But I do believe that the institution I am financially indebted to (the reason I don’t have a car – lol) could have provided an experience that was without suicidal thoughts and with less systematic failure. Our institutions should not take criticism as opportunities to shift responsibilities towards the state and private sector but to identify how they can better serve and reshape South Africa. Disclosure of higher PHD rates means a little bit less if this coexists next to suicide victims.
‘Success has a million fathers but failure is an orphan’.
By Keoagile Matseke