SA’s students are hungry – academic data conference

Testimonials and presentations from students across the country have revealed that large segments of the student population are struggling because they have no food

This is according to students who attended this year’s Siyaphumelela Conference. They have expressed deep concern over the high rate of food insecurity at institutions of higher learning.

Food insecurity describes the uncertainty one feels when they are unsure of when they will next buy groceries or meal because of limited financial means. While there are no statistics on exactly how many students are food insecure, the problem is especially prevalent among those at universities.

Through a study conducted by the Food Intervention Programme at Durban University of Technology (DUT), final year Food and Nutrition student, Sboniso Ngcobo found that students in his class were either overweight or underweight.

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“This clearly demonstrated to me that students have unhealthy eating habits. When I further enquired the reasons for this, most students said they eat what is readily and cheaply available such as amagwinya (vetkoek), while some said they had no money to buy food at all so went hungry most of the time,” he said.

However, while some students were of normal weight, his research further found that their health and behavourial profile were influenced by the availability of food in terms of quality, prices and availability of money to purchase it.

The overwhelming consensus emanating from academics attending the Siyaphumelela Conference is that the majority of students going hungry are those from poor backgrounds, from low-quintile schools and are often first-generation students in their families.

The conference was opened by Minister of Higher Education and Trainning Naledi Pandor and in her address, highlighted the adverse effect student funding has on South African students.

“Students who are inadequately funded experience great challenges with regards to food security, suitable accommodation, and the ability to obtain textbooks and other resources. These tend to be poor, black, working-class students, which means we need to develop models of funding and support that address their needs. To this end, government has chosen to introduce a full-cost bursary scheme for students whose family income is under R350 000 a year.” said Pandor.

To tackle this pervasive issue, lecturers, SRCs, civil society organisations, students and initiatives like Siyaphumelela have had to step in with food security interventions at institutions of higher learning.

As such, Saide, the coordinating body of Siyaphumelela, said it would further investigate the call for a food security/sovereignty forum made at the conference as other universities such as Wits and DUT are now harvesting fruits and vegetables on campuses as a food security measure.

The annual conference, hosted for the fourth time, is a central aspect of the Siyaphumelela programme that is aimed at improving capacity at South African universities to use data analytics to improve student success.

As such the annual conference aims to promote a national discourse on student success initiatives in the five partner institutions: The University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Pretoria, Nelson Mandela University, the University of the Free State and the Durban University of Technology.

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As the only conference focusing on the use of analytics to promote student success in sub Saharan Africa, the conference provides a platform for international and local experts and practitioners to discuss evidence-based practices and national systemic interventions aimed at student success.

Today is the final day of the three-day event held at The Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.

The three-day event has included a number of workshops followed by two and a half days of presentations and discussions centering on finding solutions to why students do not succeed at institutions of higher learning.