The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) within the School of Built Environment and Development Studies recently screened the student-centred documentary film Ready or Not! Black Students’ Experiences of South African Universities.
The short film offers a snapshot of structural and personal obstacles students face in university such as finances, institutional racism, feeling unwelcome, language, hunger, and issues of intersecting social and sexual identities, such as being female, LGBTI, or having too “much freedom”.
The stories told in the film provide a living, breathing understanding of what it means to go through the South African university system of accessing, starting, staying, passing, stopping, swapping, returning, finishing, graduating and working.
The film is the product of the key findings of a five-year study that was compiled into a book titled Studying while black: race, education and emancipation in South African universities.
This book is co-authored by the Dean and Head of the School Professor Ernest Khalema together with Professor Relebohile Moletsane from UKZN’s School of Education and the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity and the team from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
The book analyses the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the Soudien report; media representations of students and higher education institutions; and the identities and competencies of students entering universities in South Africa.
‘After selecting a small cohort of students from eight diverse universities across South Africa, we tracked the students’ journeys through university (and sometimes out of it), asking what obstacles and opportunities the students encountered, and what they, along with their institutions, were doing in response, particularly as a result of the student revolution of the #FeesMustFall,’ said Khalema.
‘As we entered the study’s third year in 2015, the start of the student protests brought national attention to many of the stories we had already heard from the students involved in this study. In the later years of the study we heard from students who were actively involved in these transformation struggles as well as those who sat on the sidelines.’
The film was screened at the CCS, leading to a fervent discussion amongst the current project lead and producer of the documentary, Dr Alude Mahali (HSRC), students, Khalema, and the vibrant audience.
‘The usefulness of Ready or Not! will depend on the film’s potential to prompt reflection in students, learners, parents, teachers, lecturers, government departments, policymakers, university administrators and faith-based institutions about alternative ways of being and operating that yield different results. The documentary raises questions about elements of educational policy and practices, while revelling in the successes of young people who beat the odds,’ says Mahali.
Much of the discussion then centred on the FeesMustFall movement and students university experiences.
‘For the past few years, students, staff and the government have been embroiled in a struggle to transform South Africa’s institutions of higher education. Despite the recent announcement of fee-free university education for entering undergraduate students, the road to change students’ experiences and success rates in universities remains long and arduous,’ said Mahali.
The documentary Ready or Not! can be viewed on YouTube: