Varsity students starving amidst rising cost of living

University students living on campus are starving and forced to study on empty stomachs due to the rising cost of living.

Rhodes University, which launched its campaign to raise funds for its escalating student debt, said its students have had to cut back even further on food and other essentials as the gap between the actual cost of living and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding widens.

The cost of food at Sol Plaatje University’s canteens, where students staged a protest last week, is more than double the amount paid by the NSFAS in living allowances and has been cited as one of the contributors to hunger among students.

A student who lives in one of the on-campus residences, needs R145 a day to afford three meals at a canteen at the institution.

With the R1 650 a month allowance provided by NSFAS, students can afford less than 15 days’ worth of meals a month.

The university’s student representative council president, Letlhogonolo Thintha, said that for self-funded students in on-campus residences, food insecurity is even more dire.

Thintha said last week’s protests were triggered by the implementation of a new fully outsourced catering model, which started on April 15.

“Students who live off campus are better off because their accommodation has fridges and stoves. They can buy groceries and cook to stretch their allowance. Students who live on campus live in communes that do not have stoves for students to cook their meals.”

An 18-year-old first-year Bachelor of Education student from Taung, North West, who refused to be named for fear of victimisation, said he survived on cornflakes, noodles, fried chips, and bread.

The university announced this week that it would provide students with free lunch for the rest of the academic year, regardless of their funding status.

Thintha said though the one subsidised meal a day would help students, it was still far from dealing with the cost of living in on-campus residences.

Rhodes University said this week it wants to raise R74-million to lessen the financial burden on students and graduates as an immediate goal through its Unlocking Futures programme.

In addition to the free lunch, Sol Plaatje University also committed to conducting a due diligence exercise on the transition to self-catered residences.

The university’s acting director for institutional advancement, Kashini Maistry, said if the transition to self-catering residences was deemed viable, preparations would be made for its implementation next year.

“The university remains committed to supporting vulnerable and destitute students through its food security and social relief programmes.

“However, students who receive monthly living allowances or who are self-funded will be expected to manage their finances in a manner that does not lead to their future food insecurity,” said Maistry.

A Wits University student said she was grateful that her NSFAS allowance could go a long way because the university provides her with basic foodstuffs such as mealie meal, rice, cooking oil, tinned fish, and peanut butter. She can also eat a free lunch on campus on rainy days.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said food insecurity among students is a grave concern.

“Through Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach (WCCO), approximately 1 000 meals are provided to students daily, and approximately 3 500 meal packs are provided.

“These programmes are largely supported through the generous donations of students and staff, alumni, members of the public, and corporate partners.

“Furthermore, the WCCO has volunteer-led gardens across campus to promote food security and sovereignty and subsidy parcels with fresh produce,” added Patel.

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