Are the youth of Newcastle being affected by #FeesMustFall?

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NEWCASTLE CBD – Buildings were burning, police were shooting tear-gas, and the students of universities all over the country were at war with their own education.

The #FeesMustFall protests might seem like a long time ago, but come July, there may be another wave of violence, and Newcastle parents and matric students alike are concerned for their futures.

The Newcastle Sun spoke to various first-year university students hailing from Newcastle, as well as current matriculants, in the wake of another catastrophic event that could erupt when the 2018 university fees are announced.

Peggy Hsu, Head Girl of St Dominics Newcastle commented on her fear of further protest action after being accepted to study engineering at the University of Pretoria.

“My parents are worried I will miss classes or that I could get hurt, but it’s really the only option I have,” she said, regarding her choice of university.

When asked whether she had considered private institutions, she commented on the lack of private universities which offer the same balance of theory and practical application.

Latika Govender, a Newcastle High School alumnus and first-year medical student at Stellenbosch, said aftermath of #FeesMutFall has not directly affected her, which could be the result of low protest action at that particular university in 2016. Latika’s father, Manuel Govender, explained his elder daughter, also studying medicine at the University of the Free State, was forced to go home during the protests last year, but was later called back, along with the other medical students, to complete the year with 24-hour security around the entire medical campus (which is separate from the main campus). Mr Govender added that if there were more private institutions offering speacialised courses, such as medicine, it would definitely have been an option, in order to avoid further chaos.

This does not mean, however, that the youth of Newcastle exclusively attend public universities. Raquel Carriera, a former learner at St Dominics Newcastle, began the first year of her Bachelor of Arts in Live Performance at The South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA), which is the perfect private tertiary institution to enhance her acting talent, as well as set her on the path to a lucrative career in film and television.

Raquel claims that AFDA was her first choice due to her love of Drama, but when asked why she did not decide to study Dramatic Arts at a public university, she responded that her parents would rather send her to the private university “because they would feel safer, and they knew I’d be going somewhere where my education wasn’t going to be jeopardised by protests”. She further assured that, to her knowledge, there is no talk of protests or any activities related to #FeesMustFall.

A first year student at the University of Pretoria, who prefers to remain anonymous, spoke about his choice of university: “My parents decided the University of Pretoria would be the best option, since I was also accepted at Wits.” His parents were concerned about his safety, because “things are just too hectic there, and the protests can get very ugly.

Tuks is close to home, so should anything happen, at least I have a safe haven nearby”. When asked whether he would consider attending a private university in order to avoid the protests, he claimed, as he is studying a BCom in Tax, distance education would not be viable.

“There are so many people here at Tuks, and so many associations you can join to create future business connections. Being here is simply the best way for me to be successful in becoming a Chartered Accountant.”

The source later admitted he supports the #FeesMustFall movement. “During our first lectures at the beginning of the year, we were told to buy textbooks online because they would be cheaper – only R600. The entire class was shocked, and the man sitting in front of me was saying he doesn’t even have enough money to pay for food”.

Although he does not condone the destruction of property or violent action, the source claimed he would join the protests, because he never realised until now what the other students are going through. They don’t have the money to buy bread, never mind textbooks. I understand their struggle now, and I feel like I should support them”. He continued to explain that without his bursary, he would be in the exact same position as the students who cannot afford the accommodation and extra fees that come with tertiary education.

Although the source has not heard of any formal meetings that have been held regarding further protests, he has overheard many students throughout his first semester planning activities. He claimed protest action will likely begin again towards the end of July.

From our investigation, it would seem the safety of university students lies predominantly with parents. Many stated it would not be an option to attend a private or distance university, because of the lack of specialised courses, variation in courses, and the ability to allow for practical studies.

Despite the fact that further protests are being planned in low whispers around certain public universities, students would rather take the risk to attend them for the sake of their future, if not for their own safety. The true crux of the matter is private institutions lack the resources of state-funded universities, and thus matriculants feel they have no other choice.

While Unisa remains an option for those studying theoretical degrees, and AFDA or The Open Window School of Visual Communication are perfect for the more culturally and artistically-inclined students, those who wish to study medicine, engineering, or architecture must simply wait the protests out, and hope their lecture halls are still standing by the time they are allowed back.

Belinda Brock

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