By Lori Dresner, Managing Editor, News Editor
A group of students from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa visited the University of Missouri—St. Louis campus for four days last week to tour the university and discuss the increasing cost of attending universities in South Africa. Student protests ensued there last fall after a nearly 8 percent tuition increase was proposed by the government.
Some of the students who visited the university are representatives within their local Student Representative Council (SRC). Those students had lunch with six members of the Student Government Association (SGA) at a Student Leader Luncheon in Century Room B on Wednesday.
“It is all part of the student-to-student program to have student leaders interact and discuss the role of the SGA on college campuses,” explained Dr. Jerol Enoch, International Program Coordinator in the Office of International Studies and Programs at UMSL.
The students from Western Cape and the UMSL SGA representatives discussed current issues on their respective campuses during the luncheon.
“…You see, we have students who cannot afford to study currently as we are sitting here…” Sibulelo Ganda, Secretary General for the SRC, explained to a few members of SGA during the lunch. He referenced the tuition fees, which have put many students in debt in South Africa, and said that many students there do not even have places to live.
According to BBC News, student protests erupted in September in South Africa after the government proposed a tuition fee increase of up to 8 percent for 2017. Students began calling for free education following this proposal. Government subsidies, student fees, and private sources are universities’ three main sources of income in South Africa.
In the fall of 2015, student protests ensued after tuition fee increases between 10 and 12 percent were proposed. A #FeesMustFall protest was started by students in response to the proposal. South African President, Jacob Zuma, announced in October of that year that fees would not increase in 2016, according to the Washington Post.
The SGA representatives also spoke with the Western Cape visitors about some of the current issues that are specific to UMSL. SGA President Kathryn Loucks, senior, biology, and SGA senator Joey Dordoni, freshman, anthropology, discussed the problem of space constraints for student groups and organizations at UMSL.
“I think the biggest thing we hear right now is that we don’t have designated student spaces for different identities for students,” said Loucks. She proceeded to talk about the need for safe spaces on campus where students can feel comfortable expressing their points of view. “…We really need to find a solution to where we can give students a space where they feel safe,” she said.
“And it’s difficult because once you start making spaces for one identity or an organization, then you have to start doing that for all of them,” she continued.
Loucks and Dordoni also discussed the difficulty of increasing SGA’s visibility on UMSL’s campus due to the primarily commuter student body.
“[Visibility is] sort of an issue that we have—and it sounds like you guys on your campus and your student government really has a place and a lot of people paying attention to it— [but] our student government here has less of that. I’ve talked to students before that didn’t even know we had a student government,” Dordoni said.
“You guys have light problems,” said Nolukholo Mabharwana, Deputy President of the SRC. “[At our university], we have problems … very big problems.”
The UMSL students and the visitors, however, also found some similarities in the issues they face on their campuses and how those issues are handled. One commonality they discovered was that of the progress towards LGBTQIA+ rights at their universities.
“One of the similar problems which I think we are kind of progressing in … it’s the issue of LGBT [rights]…As much as it’s a society where I can say there’s still that stigma … I will say it is progressing when it comes to such issues and you can be who you want to be. On campus they will do their marches …They can come to [the] student center and get the attention of all [the] students there and talk about their issues…” said Ganda.
The University of the Western Cape is a public university located in the Republic of South Africa. Total enrollment for the university was 20,583 in 2014.
According to the university’s website, “The Student Representative Council (SRC) is the highest decision-making structure of student governance … It represents and advocates for rights of all students at UWC, and their overall interest and social well-being, on University committees. It is highly involved in policy-making and co-operative decision-making at UWC.”
The SRC is made up of 11 student members who are elected annually by the student body, according to the website. The council’s activities include academic development, exclusions, services, entertainment, and transformation.
In addition to the luncheon on Wednesday, the students from Western Cape visited various spots on campus, attended presentations pertaining to local issues in St. Louis, and toured several attractions around the city, including Ferguson City Hall, the Gateway Arch, the Basilica, and Forest Park.
After leaving St. Louis, the students traveled to the University of Missouri—Columbia and will then visit the University of Missouri—Kansas City.