The Well-being of South African University Students From Low-income Households.
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The role of higher education in development and social mobility is now widely acknowledged and globally recognised. In South Africa in particular, graduates have greatly increased employment prospects. This paper takes up the importance of addressing South African university students’ multi-dimensional well-being in the light of global higher education development agendas. Considering poverty and development in the space of higher education – specifically in the lives of youth from low-income households in South Africa – I draw on two waves of life history data from undergraduate students at five universities. Material-cultural conditions for a threshold of well-being emerged powerfully in every single student narrative, indicating a need for some rethinking of capability deprivation and poverty. This paper conceptualises three broad hardship categories specific to higher education, considering the multiplicity of factors and complexity of low-income in student experiences and achievements. Even though the theoretical framing draws on Sen’s capability approach and its attractive moral perspective, the paper also foregrounds students’ material well-being as significant in understanding how education can advance change, and not only reproduce social inequalities. The challenge remains, how do we reconcile resources and capabilities, and to link freedoms to financial analysis in evaluating the lives that students value?
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