Double GCRO vignette on #FeesMustFall
The Gauteng City-Region Observatory provides a brief account on the recent #FeesMustFall protests on South African campuses and the many issues it raised.
These issues include: the alienation and marginalisation felt by African students, reflected in calls for ‘decolonisation’; students’ class position in society and whether the fiscus should or shouldn’t carry all the costs of their higher degrees; and whether either the confrontational protest tactics, or the ‘militarisation’ of campuses, are justified. In the whirlwind of public debate there have been many opinions but few facts. Through a double vignette GCRO mines its 2015 Quality of Life Survey for insights into the life circumstances and attitudes of 1 493 respondents identifiable as students in Gauteng.
In QoL 2015 a respondent is a student if they say: Their most frequent trip is to ‘a place of study’ | they are not looking for work because they are ‘a school pupil or full time student’ | their highest level of education is matric or more (excludes school pupils).
In this vignette we consider two axes of inequality at issue in the #FeesMustFall protests. First, calls for ‘decolonisation’ give voice to a deeply felt sense of disadvantage by many students relative to their historically more privileged peers. Is this perception of inequality – of structural violence by the academy itself – valid? Second, to call for free higher education is to demand dramatic re-prioritisation of limited public resources. Is it legitimate to stake this claim given the current social position and future opportunities of those benefiting from higher-education, as well as the many unmet development needs of the poorest?
This vignette provides a breakdown of students in Gauteng by income. It shows that only 2% of students are from households earning above R600 000 a year. About 20% of students belong to the so-called ‘missing middle’, while three quarters are eligible for NSFAS funding. Whereas the top 2% are generally better off than all other students (e.g. less likely to have debt or be worried), the missing middle have much in common with NSFAS-eligible students. Students from the missing middle are the least likely to have participated in protests.