30% of university students are hungry‚ conference told
University students are the victims of a “hidden hunger” crisis‚ a conference in Cape Town has been told.
Hunger levels among students are higher than in the general population‚ Stephen Devereux of the National Research Foundation told the National Colloquium on Access to Food for Students.
More than 30% are food insecure‚ compared with 26% of the population‚ said Devereux‚ adding: “The overall picture is that campus food insecurity is much higher than we realised.”
The failures of the beleaguered National Student Financial Aid Scheme played a key role in hunger because of long delays with distribution of funds and the inadequacy of food vouchers‚ he said.
“It is already August and many students throughout SA have not yet received their bursaries. Many of the students come from very poor families and really rely on these bursaries. This failure to pay has affected them severely.”
Hunger played a significant roled in the student dropout rate. “If people are hungry‚ they cannot concentrate‚ they become stressed and anxious. A number of these students are working on top of studying and this‚ too‚ affects their academic performance.”
Devereux said race was the strongest predictor of student food insecurity. “This problem is concentrated among black and coloured students. We cannot have poverty reduction and the transformation of South Africa’s economy and society without more black graduates.”
On the positive side‚ Devereux said there were many attempts to help hungry students‚ such as a food bank at Wits University that provides 2‚500 students with a monthly food pack and a Stop Hunger Now initiative at the University of Johannesburg that provides 7‚000 meals a week.
The University of Free State’s No Student Hungry campaign provides a daily allowance to food insecure students to enable them to buy meals at campus outlets.
“There is also an amazing initiative at the University of the Western Cape called The Fairy Godmother‚ initiated by a student who saw how students were struggling and set up a Facebook page where people can write up their needs for financial aid and invite others to contribute‚” said Devereux.
“Most universities around the country have these small ad hoc schemes providing some kind of support. But they are not co-ordinated or funded on a large scale.
"Importantly‚ they take the responsibility away from the government and from NSFAS‚ both of whom should be doing a much better job. Fully costed bursaries and more efficient management are needed.”