NATIONAL NEWS - Universities across the country have had to adapt quickly to an online teaching strategy in order to assist students with the continuation and completion of their studies.
While universities continue working tirelessly to digitize their education approach, many university students (including those who were previously campus-based) have been left behind without the means and resources to continue their studies.
While this may be a challenge that has been amplified during the Covid-19 national lockdown, findings from a research report published in May this year by local student crowdfunding platform Feenix, painted a stark picture of the real challenges that many university students face.
For Feenix to gain a better understanding of the ‘thrive’ drivers of students, a total of 362 participants consisting of students across 26 universities, as well as graduates and parents were interviewed as part of the study.
The findings of the report detailed both qualitative and quantitative data extracted from a series of 54 online questions to help effectively measure the impact that funding has on students from an academic, emotional, and financial perspective.
According to Leana de Beer, Chief Executive Officer of Feenix, the needs of university students go far beyond financial support to pay for their fees. “The research found that students are also severely impacted by a lack of critical resources in order to thrive, such as; food, accommodation, transport and data.”
De Beer acknowledged that future financial stability and overall academic success are of the two most important things in students’ lives.
In relation to the need for tuition and registration fees, the findings indicated that 41% of students experienced a delay in the registration and start of their studies, with 50% of these students citing that this was due to a lack of funding.
The research showed that the challenges faced by students have become even more apparent during the lockdown period, as students who were living on campus are unable to afford laptops and data to continue their studies. These students are also struggling to pay for necessities such as food and transport. In response to these needs, Feenix recently launched their CapTheGap campaign which has enabled students to resume their studies.
According to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s 2018-19 annual report, 8% of tertiary education students worry about food. “This means that approximately 82 960 students in South Africa carry the burden of being unable to buy food to ensure that they are eating adequate meals,” de Beer pointed out.
Another key take out from the research, which runs parallel to the alarming issue of food security, is the poor access to resources. This rings true particularly for the financially disadvantaged ‘missing middle’ individuals, with 27% of the respondents experiencing difficulties accessing textbooks and 46% unequipped with the necessary tools such as data, laptops and computers, to complete their assignments or participate in online learning programs.
De Beer said that the data collected would allow the organisation to adapt its business model to support students holistically.
Cara-Jean Petersen, Student Engagement Manager at Feenix, explained that the insights from the report will inform future product design at Feenix to ensure that organisation is meeting the actual needs as identified by students themselves rather than those based on assumptions.
“We can’t do this alone,” says Petersen. “Students need as much help as they can get. So, we call on businesses to play their part in bridging the gap – whether it’s through the distribution services, food vouchers, access to data and resources, or financial support.”
“There is a hunger for knowledge in South Africa. As a collective, we need to work together to help ensure that young people are equipped with the right resources and support to access higher education,” says Petersen.
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