As many in South Africa, and beyond, attentively watched the vibrant students’ revolution unfold, an unaddressed, related matter caught my attention. Even as President Jacob Zuma bowed to students’ demands by scrapping a tuition increase for 2016, international students’ concerns remained a non-issue. Although the latter have not been loud enough – being a minority – the solution offered to end the crisis could have considered them.
South Africa is a country that has witnessed a consistent surge of international students over the years following its democratization. According to the International Education Association of South Africa, they number over 70,000. While some have protested in individual capacities, there has not been a discernible reaction for their cause. Nevertheless, their grievances, albeit simmering, are worth paying attention to. ImportantCool took the opportunity to speak to some, who weighed with their thoughts on this fundamental matter.
Dan, is an international student at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg. “I chose Wits”, he says, “because it is a world class university, one of the best in Africa and the education home of many great leaders in South Africa and Africa.” Dan said point-blank that the first problem international students bump into is the “international levy” they have to pay. “It’s about R5000, and we also have to pay 75% of the full amount [tuition fees] before we get to register. I think this is unfair looking at the fact it is the beginning of the year and money is not always available at that particular moment. Many of us have struggled to achieve that.”
Dan added that international students are not represented in the Student Representative Committee (SRC). “So far, there is no representation allocated for international students, only for the purpose of advocating the causes. There is an international students portfolio in the SRC which caters [to] us. However, this has not been effective because the people that are in charge are not international students, and therefore do not know much of the real issues we are experiencing.”
On the matter of fees, Dan suggested “decrease[ing] the 75% upfront fee and review[ing] the fixed amount that international students who are not part of SADC have to pay.” It is worth noting that students whose countries are not members of the Southern African Development Community happen to be charged double, if not triple the tuition fees of locals.
His remarks resonate with Joe, an international student at the University of Johannesburg, who corroborates failures of the representative body of students. He believes the SRC’s will to help international students who are “a big asset for South Africa” collides with other interests. In his own words he states that “they seem powerless and helpless many a time. That might be down to the ruling power of the management section,” he says. “Their decisions are very seldom if not ever overturned”
Junior from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria brings in an alternate analysis. What he puts forward is that the “SRC don’t really take international students” matters to heart. “If they did,” he argues, “I don’t think we would still have to pay the full amount of our tuition fees to register at some tertiary institutions. And for those institutions where they don’t have such a condition, I would be surprised if the SRC have had anything to do with that.”
I went to see what other said on Twitter, a social platform that carried the spirit of the revolution. The tweets in support of international students were not very many, thus apparently did not resonate with trending hashtags, such as #FeesMustFall or #NationalShutdown. They virtually remained underneath thick layers of mainstream rhetoric. I have unearthed a few, nevertheless:
It is so ridiculous to think international students have more money than locals hence must pay double the fees. #FeesMustFall
— ♈ClΔyζhL♥ν (@claythLuv) October 20, 2015
But why are international students bring excluded from the #FeesMustFall revolution!?! They are still our brothers and sisters
— Nontokozo Masanabo (@ntokxee) October 20, 2015
— Judith Mukuna (@JudithMukuna) October 20, 2015
— Mapaseka Setlhodi (@Itsme_Maps) October 21, 2015
International students at UKZN raise questions about additional high costs imposed on them. #FeesMustFall
— Clint Le Bruyns (@ClintLeBruyns) October 22, 2015
It would be difficult to absolve the government, when what students decry happens in public universities with no indication of any change in the offing whatsoever. Junior suggests that “the first thing that would make lives easier financially is to change methods of payment and provide funding for brilliant international students.”
Another phenomenon transcending the academic world’s ambit relates to employment practices. Expatriates in South Africa account for 4% of the national workforce. Despite some in the recent past having pushed a xenophobic agenda with erroneous rationale that foreigners were bringing about unrest in the labor market by taking jobs destined for South Africans. Dan: “There are some forms of discrimination related to working after we complete our studies. However, I believe universities can have great influence on those policies if they want to. This will allow us to get jobs after we complete our studies.”
Ensuing a meeting with vice-chancellors, presidents of student representative councils, chairpersons of university councils, and representatives of student organizations, President Jacob Zuma, in a laconic TV statement, made public that “broader transformation issues affecting higher education” would be looked at. Will that commitment be converted to comprehensive steps comprising solutions to international students’ problems? I hope so.
When, earlier this month, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba made the proposal that foreign students become new South Africans, subsequent to completing studies, and contribute to development, it appeared that a transformational elan was emerging. When more than words are actuated, to give effect to preferences of such nature, the alluring colors of the rainbow nation will glow brighter, and clouds of grievances will dissipate.
Interviews with foreign students in South Africa