Breaking with the past campus traditions of hosting an environment laden with alcohol and drugs at so-called “Fresher`s Balls” where first year students are exposed to a life of drinking and substance abuse, the City of Tshwane will host the inaugural Tshwane Homecoming Lifestyle Festival on 2-5 March 2017 for first year students from colleges and universities in the city.
About 50,000 first year students chose the City of Tshwane as their study destination to pursue their tertiary education at the many colleges and universities in the city.
Organized by the South African Student Support Agency (SASS Agency) in partnership with Ster-Kinekor, the South African State Theatre and City of Tshwane Museums, the main aim of the Tshwane Homecoming Lifestyle Festival is to welcome and orientate first year students into a safe socio-cultural lifestyle offered by the City of Tshwane.
Whilst campuses around the city do offer campus-based first year orientation of some form, very few campuses if not all don’t provide city-based orientation for the over 80% commuter first years who live off-campus, often in conditions that are not conducive for learning and success.
Imagine this: Only about 30% (3600) of the 12,000 first years studying at Tshwane University of Technology in 2017 will be lucky enough to gain space in the residence accommodation offered by the institution. This means that almost 8 400 of this most vulnerable group, will be living off-campus, at home or with relatives if they’re lucky enough or in private student accommodation close to House 22 or Cubana in Sunnyside, Pretoria or worst still being a tenant in a tavern whose owner happens to be the chairperson of the Mavuso Club in Hammanskraal.
The 2010 Ministerial Commission on Student Housing made a horrifying finding that on average, institutions only places 5% of their first years in their residence accommodation. The rest are exposed to all sorts of elements and temptations in the hassle and bustle of the university towns.
So whilst we celebrate the best matric students from the class of 2016, there are many first year students who will enter the ill-fated “revolving door of drop-outs” who will be dazzled by the luring bright lights of the city, with its life of debauchery – only to fall flat in failure and be thrown back into the endless pit of poverty and youth unemployment.
Weakened by a collapsed extra-curricular program in most township schools – these first year students are vulnerable to fall prey to a destructive student lifestyle in the “big student cities”. In the name of chasing the core-curriculum with no space to play in their Grade 12 year, it is as if their social development is put on hold in the 12th grade in a rampant crazy quest by their schools and provinces to compete for the top position – at their own post-secondary peril. Only to fail in their first year – because they lost a year of growing up – in preparation of the freedom far from the constant glare of their parents and the village.
How is it that students who have been produced from no-fees schools from Grade 1 to Grade 12, with full state support of tuition, nutrition and scholar transport, are all of sudden left to their own devises when they have to convert their basic education into a life-changing college or university qualification that will launch them into a successful career, that will break their shackles of poverty?
It is as if, after the well-rehearsed speeches about the improved matric results – courtesy of the benevolent Amalusi – the dominant story is about the adults and not the children. It is the narrative about the best MEC of Education and the best principal in the land. It is never about the lonely journey beyond – and not about how many learners who started their Grade 1 will not complete their educational journey with at least a decent undergraduate diploma or degree or at most with a Masters or a doctoral degree!
Many seminars, conferences and a commission have been held about student accommodation policies and practice, about accreditation for private accommodation and private public partnerships crafted in the boardrooms of universities. All these efforts spent at finding solutions for the 20% and 10% – on average – of residence students who live and learn on campus. No similar seminars, conferences and commissions has been invested in to investigate the plight of the over 80% of commuter students, who face the daily challenges of living off-campus and the financial burden of high transport costs to campus.
That is why research shows that the inverse is the case: 80% of those who live on campus are most likely to succeed compared to 20% of those who live off-campus!
To turnaround the low graduate rate, institutions and private investors must stop promoting the self-serving “crisis of shortage of student accommodation” in order to build an argument for their investment, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) must follow the example of the Department of Basic Education to develop a Commuter Students Policy that will provide a comprehensive, 360 degrees solution to the plight of commuter students.
Renewed efforts must be invested in how institutions and municipalities can work together to improve the experience of commuter students in the university towns. Similar models have worked in France and Germany where their respective student agencies, CNOUS and Studentewerke – has created a unique, city-based student support system for their student communities, through a quadripartite relationship with the student agency, the department of education/state, colleges/universities, and local municipalities to look after the welfare of student communities in the student city.
The commuter student policy should include the extension of a state-sponsored Student Travel Assistance Program and a nutrition program to continue supporting those from the no-fees schools. Whilst in Grade 9, systems must be in place to identify those with potential – as they enter the last phase of their studies from Grade 10-12 – to conduct psychometric tests and apply on their behalf to a college or university closer to their home towns or province on completion of their Grade 10.
By the end of their Grade 11 they should have received a provisional acceptance from the selected colleges and universities with a confirmation of their full cost financial aid grant. Finally, place these learners in position where they can fully focus their energies on the Grade 12, inspired by the full knowledge that they must earn their entry – without worry – into a college or university of their placement.
In Tshwane, for those student who succeeded, the City will welcome them with an alcohol and substance free Annual Homecoming Lifestyle Festival designed especially to guide them on how to live a truly effective student lifestyle with access to safe places of leisure, recreation and transportation in the city.
Through this event, the students will also be taught to read the signposts wisely – and not contribute to the wealth of the night club owners and the nocturnal DJ`s – instead of pursuing their own future wealth hidden in the pages of knowledge. They will also be taught to be smart enough to venture and navigate into the night without falling prey of the marauding so called blessers.