Since October, student protests have been held on university campuses first against rising tuition fees, then about outsourcing staff and most recently about the use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.
Last month four universities, North-West University, the University of Pretoria at Hatfield and Groenkloof, and the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein had to close their campuses after arson attacks during the clashes.
“My inbox is full of applicants who are on campus who’ve done one year or two years and want to move”
Liza Manoussis, owner of Global Education agency, said she has seen greater interest from students as a result of the unease, especially those already studying in South African universities.
“My inbox is full of applicants who are on campus who’ve done one year or two years and want to move,” she commented. “Students are passing on lower GPAs, [which won’t be recognised at overseas universities], so parents are saying let’s just get them out from now and start again.”
In January, the Department of Education estimated the total damage made during the protests at 13 university campuses from October to January was R145m ($9.4m). After clashes this month the costs to repair broken statues and burnt buildings will undoubtedly rise.
In a statement this month, department spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana condemned the actions of protestors.
“We reaffirm the constitutional right of the students to strike and voice their concerns over issues that they feel are not receiving sufficient attention, but we reiterate that such a right to strike goes along with responsibility,” he said.
“All of these incidents are unfortunate and regrettable, and must not be allowed to recur. We urge universities to stamp their authority, act decisively and involve law enforcement agencies to apprehend those behind the damage to property.”
Ruth Chirimuta is hoping her son, Tashinga, 17, will find a place at a university overseas. “There is too much violence on South African campuses because of the protests about money,” she told The PIE News at a fair in Johannesburg, organised by Global Education, last week.
“And because of the quotas in South Africa, many students miss out,” she added, referring to the racial quota system in place at universities.
Interest in Canada and Australia has increased in the past year, according to Manoussis, but the US continues to be the number one destination of choice for South African students.
Pieter Dodd and his wife Hanlie and daughter Carmen, 17, drove 10 hours to attend a university exhibition in Pretoria. “The opportunity outside of South Africa is much better than the opportunity inside South Africa and the opportunities in America are fantastic,” he commented.
“The opportunity outside of South Africa is much better than the opportunity inside South Africa and the opportunities in America are fantastic”
The country’s economic woes are adding to students’ urgency to leave. The rand hit 18 to the dollar in December after a slow decline from 7 per dollar in 2011. It has rallied slightly this month to 15 per dollar.
Manoussis said since the rand hit rock bottom, the number of students interested in studying overseas has soared.
“We have had a 200% increase in our numbers for February alone,” she said, adding that the increase is the result of many students who had offers from 2015 unexpectedly accepting.
Most of the students she works with are full-fee paying students, but many who would need scholarships or tuition discounts are finding any way possible to fund international studies.
“The parents who can afford to send their children hold bank accounts outside of the country so they’ve got money outside, they’re the 1%,” she said.
“The others are getting loans, they’re taking out second bonds on their houses, and they’re coming in and producing the bank statement. They’re finding ways.”