There is a common strong thread that can be linked to the numerous strikes that South Africa’s universities have experienced. Getting a rental close to most of these universities is unaffordable to majority of the students.
Last year the government tried to fix the problem using some stop-gap measures via its budget that it tabled in parliament. But until all the financial issues are tackled, the problem will go on escalating.
The protests have been of varied forms. University of the Western Cape joined hands with the trade unions to protests regarding low wages and debt. While at University of the Free State, violence started at a rugby match in which student demonstrators were attacked by spectators.
The South African Students of Pretoria University clashed regarding the shortage of hostels and also the policy for the language of instruction. Artworks and a bus were burned by the students while raw sewage was thrown into lecture rooms.
North-West University was closed after students from different political factions clashed.
These clashes have majorly been as a result of class and race differences. They have exposed the things that are yet to be resolved, 22 years since SA conducted its first democratic elections.
The unifying factor is inequality and the impact it has on student funding. The country has been termed to be among the most unequal countries worldwide and also has a high rate of unemployment.
The low income families feel the highest economic pinch considering that there is a huge variation in the quality of public schooling.
Most very poor students get bursary but this is not sufficient to offset the total costs. Those that are in slightly well to-do families find themselves in a dilemma. They earn too much to be funded by the government but too little to pay their school fees and accommodation expenses.
At the same time, old ways of funding access to university are proving ineffective.
Like many other countries, South Africa will have to make significant structural changes to its higher education system if it is to meet the aspirations of its students and the future needs of its economy.