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Students go hungry to study

Prostitution, theft, selling personal possessions and surviving on one meal a day.

These are some of the actions desperate tertiary students have had to take to help keep them from going hungry.

Student hunger came under the spotlight at the first national higher education colloquium on food insecurity on university campuses at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein on Friday.

Research conducted by the university found that as many as 60% of the student population were food insecure and experienced hunger.

Of these, up to 70% often have to borrow money for food, mostly from friends.

Nearly one in ten has sold belongings for food money, and 1.6% have stolen food.

The university’s No Student Hungry bursary programme has funded over 500 students since its inception in 2011.

A senior nutrition lecturer and researcher at the UFS and dietetics department, Dr Louise van den Bergh, said there was a misconception that students had money for food if they have money for studies.

This was not always the case for bursary and financial aid students.

Van den Bergh said funders needed to reassess bursaries keeping issues such as food insecurity in mind, and not just focus on tuition.

“It is unfair and inhumane to give a student the opportunity to study, but expect that student to starve while studying,” she added.

Both UFS and University of KwaZulu-Natal studies further revealed that a number of students – some of them financial aid recipients – support relatives at home, including parents, siblings and their own children.

The desperation for food, according to UKZN, has led to students doing whatever it took to get something to eat – even prostitution.

Food insecurity is considered to be one of the biggest “silent” struggles facing tertiary students in South Africa and other parts of the world.

The UFS, UKZN, University of Zululand and the Durban University of Technology have formal and informal programmes to address student hunger on their campuses.


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