n South African Journal of Higher Education - 'I keep myself clean ... at least when you see me, you don't know I am poor' : student experiences of poverty in South African higher education

Volume 24, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



There is little research exploring poverty amongst university students, which renders poverty on university campuses invisible. This study aims to begin to understand experiences and constructions of poverty among university students. The qualitative study design uses open-ended, in-depth interviews in which four students from a university in the Western Cape were interviewed. The findings suggest that poor students use multiple strategies to circumvent the psychological distress associated with poverty and to disguise their poverty. They reflect complex and seemingly contradictory views of poverty as an individually and structurally created burden when they simultaneously take responsibility for their poverty but also attribute it to structural factors. Despite this, participants expressed resilience and hope for a better future, championing education as the 'way out' of their current situation. The findings suggest that more qualitative research is needed in this area as it holds implications for student retention, access to university and drop-out rates in higher education, areas which are core to transformation in South African higher education. Some recommendations about individual and interpersonal interventions that may supplement collective or macro-level interventions are made.

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