School of Built Environment & Development Studies

UKZN Shows Documentary on Black Students’ Experiences of SA Universities

Dr Alude Mahali and Professor Relebohile Moletsane with their new book.
Dr Alude Mahali and Professor Relebohile Moletsane with their new book.
Dr Alude Mahali and Professor Relebohile Moletsane with their new book.
Dr Alude Mahali and Professor Relebohile Moletsane with their new book.

The event at the Howard College Theatre also featured the launch of the book titled: Studying while black: race, education and emancipation in South African universities.

This book was co-authored by members of a research team from the HSRC – Professor Sharlene Swartz, Dr Alude Mahali, Ms Emma Arogundade, Dr Adam Cooper and Dr Candice Groenewald – and by UKZN academics Professor Relebohile Moletsane of the School of Education, and Dean and Head of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Professor Ernest Khalema.

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 profile and experiences of students entering universities in South Africa.

‘After selecting a small cohort of students from eight diverse universities across South Africa, the HSRC, who were commissioned to conduct the qualitative aspect of the study, 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 Moletsane. ‘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.’

According to the study’s authors, the high failure rate among students, low course completion rates on time, and the lack of equity in enrolment and completion between Black and White students are among the key challenges facing South African tertiary education.

The documentary film is the product of the key findings of a five-year study and 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 documentary 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’, said Mahali (HSRC).

After the screening, Moletsane and Mahali facilitated a fervent discussion with the audience, which included students, academics, student support services staff and a few key academic roleplayers including the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zululand, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, and her Deputy Vice-Chancellors Professor Sipho Seepe and Professor Sechaba Mahlomaholo.

‘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,’ said Mahali. ‘The documentary raises questions about elements of educational policy and practices, while revelling in the successes of young people who beat the odds.’

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,’ said Mahali. ‘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.,’

The documentary Ready or Not! can be viewed on YouTube:

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