The adopted lifestyles by South African students in tertiary education must be a concern in youth formations, civil society and education circles henceforward. To continue lamenting their disparaging consequences without novel and practical approaches is, at best, outsourcing of our god given parental responsibility and, at worst, unpatriotic.
In the recent weeks we have all witnessed student protest that disrupted education in almost the entire country. The battle cry was said to be against shortfalls in money from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Describing the situation, South African Student Congress (SASCO) President Ntuthuko Makhombothi said the situation was made worse by universities increasing their fees exorbitantly.
"This has resulted in the disenfranchisement of the working class and poor students and their condemnation to unemployment and poverty," he said. Makhombothi went further to say “it was shocking and extremely disturbing that the institutions that were confronted with the problems were the previously black institutions where children of the workers and the poor studied.
The demands by students were truly emotional and challenged our inner beings to act or, at the least, sympathize with their grounds. But, in turn, we have turned a blind eye to the realities that these protests were hiding behind.
It only takes a glance at a recent research report to arouse antagonistic feelings, even anger.
The research in question is by a youth marketing company Student Village and Unisa’s department of marketing and retail management (2013) which paints a completely different picture to that hollowed by students.
The report suggests that tertiary education students spend around “R39, 5 billion (bn) per year – and 85% of it has nothing to do with textbooks”. They also report that for most South African students, food is the main expense.
At the time of the research there were about 850 000 tertiary students in the country and researchers interviewed 1 220 students aged between 18 and 24, using both online questionnaires and conducting in-person interviews at five of the country’s biggest institutions
In context of the South African budget; it means that student spending is R5,3 bn higher than the school infrastructure budget for financial year 2014/15, which is at R34.3bn, almost 10% of the social grant budget (R410 bn) and 94% of the HIV and AIDS budget (R42 bn).
The report also found that, on average, a tertiary student spends R3 510 a month – or about R42 120 every year. And the biggest source of income for South Africa’s students? Their parents. Of those surveyed, 77% relied on parents for their monthly allowance, while others worked part-time or dipped into bursary funding to pay their way.
Given the vitriolic and emotional statements that gave reason to the protests and, at times, succeed to gain our emotional support (or is it emotional blackmail?...angazi), it is disappointing to learn that the student spending patterns do not support the claim of any “attack on the poor”. The report educates us that R2, 8 billion is spent on alcoholic beverages, groceries (R6,2 billion), clothing (R4,2 billion), IT gadgets (R3,1 billion) and toiletries (R2,3 billion).
Research by CALS (the Centre for Applied Legal Studies) for Soul City has found that drinking is a “serious problem in South African universities” and is said to be higher among new students, as they learn drinking habits during orientation week. A culture of binge drinking (alcohol use is 57% in male and 26% in female students) has become entrenched in campuses as one of the rights of passage.
Interestingly; we also know that garbage in, garbage out.
Analysis indicates that fewer than five South Africans in 100 who enroll in Grade one of schooling graduate from university. This problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged students: only 28% of students in the NSFAS make it to graduation. Meanwhile, the demand for educated, employable graduates is high.
Therefore; the adopted lifestyles by students have far reaching concerns for the individual, the family and the country including severe impact on human resources development, skills building initiatives and would be key driver of unemployment, graduate employability in particular.
An estimated 24% of students have retails accounts, 20% with credit cards, about 35 000 buying vehicles and the expensive alcohol and drug habits is only the beginning of an undesirable debt trap when the prospects for post-graduation employability are slim. Many are black listed with credit bureaus while at school ushering them into a life of credit unworthiness.
This clearly points to an unscrupulous practice, by financial institutions, of extending credit to a population whose decision making is limited by pleasures of time. Clearly; banks adopt a ‘profit at all cost and price’ approach.
Another devastating effect to the country’s skill base is revealed by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The HSRC indicates that up to 40% of SA students drop out in their first year at university. The graduation rate among undergraduate students in South Africa’s 23 public universities is 15 percent. The rate for Master’s students is 20 percent and for doctoral students 12 percent. Black students make up the biggest percentage of dropouts.
The high dropout rate results in low production of many top professions – like medicine, engineering and chartered accountancy – where black membership is extremely low. The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has recently noted that despite numerous initiatives and bursary programmes to boost black membership only 24% of chartered accountants living in SA are black.
It's also no secret that alcohol consumption can cause major health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver and injuries sustained in car accidents. But if you think liver disease and car crashes are the only health risks posed by drinking, think again: researchers have linked alcohol consumption to more than 60 diseases.
Habitual drinking increases the risk of cancer, can make platelets more likely to clump together into blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, goes hand in hand with depression, can cause blood pressure to rise, and suppresses the immune system, providing a toehold for infections, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (including some that cause infertility). Heavy drinking is associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Alcohol and drug abuse are the main drivers of gender based violence. Allowing free alcohol and drug abuse in tertiary institutions results in the creation of abusers who would torment their future partners and children thereafter. Also; many victims of gender based violence, whose scars are deeper than the eye can see, suffer in silence and shame. Parents, or guardians, abdicating their parental duties on one hand and tertiary institutions allowing free reign; creates monsters out of students – both the abuser and victims.
The devastating effect of alcohol abuse must be ripping through us, when someone we know dies from over indulging and alcohol abuse. Many alcoholics are very talented people, but are paralyzed by the effect of the abuse. We need the strength and soberness of all the people in South-Africa.
Our economy, as well as corporates and industry, is looking to higher education institutions to produce graduates capable of performing in a professional environment. And, we all believe that institutions of higher education are well positioned to address South Africa’s acute skills shortage – but only if they institute effective programmes to help ensure qualified students both academically and as fully developed human beings.
The department of higher education - supported by business - must, as part of its core mandate, also established a grant portfolio focused on developing the next generation of young leaders by helping promising students to succeed. This programme must target the highest risk students so that it helps them graduate and then obtain professional employment. What must really distinguish it from other programmes is its intensive focus on the holistic range of academic, psychosocial and career readiness challenges students face as they make their way through education.
South African tertiary institutions have opened their doors to disadvantaged students. They have an obligation to do more than simply wait to see whether they sink or swim once on campus.
We need to begin to look at tertiary education from all angles – academic, social and financial – so that we can implement practical solutions that support students in overcoming their problems. We all must lead a cutting edge strategy designed to dramatically increase the number of educated, employable young people.
However; such a strategy must foster a network of high quality, high impact schools at the primary and secondary level, to ensure a wider pipeline of students prepared to succeed in higher education without remediation. The goal must be to ensure we are able to spot red flags early, so that we can remedy them if they appear to become a future barrier.
The cost of alcohol use and misuse to the fiscus is at R38-billion a year, or 1.6% of gross domestic product, according to Medical Research Council. Globally, the rising cost of non-communicable diseases is expected to reach trillions of dollars. Yet broad-based interventions cost very little.
Campaigns against those who profit by destroying the doyens of our future must be mounted by both youth and student organizations. In the same vain; programmes to discourage reckless behavior must be intensified and led by the youth.
As Mandela poignantly asserted “when a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”; we cannot outsource our social responsibility, and godly expectation, to guide the youth. We cannot turn tertiary institutions into campuses that destroy our dream of a better and brighter life for all, where the hopes of individual young men and women are turned into despair and an opportunity of writing a new story is dashed before it begins.