Institutional inclusion in Higher Education: an analysis of the experiences of access, belonging and participation of international/ foreign students at the University Of Cape Town.

Doctoral Thesis


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Despite the ongoing global conflicts, wars, disputes and crises which face the world, education is one of the forces enabling global unity. Cultural enrichment, through ‘semesters away,' student exchange programmes and the marketing of ‘ivy-league' education online, have resulted in an explosion in student migration. However, international student migration is not a new concept, dating back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Europe, where foreign students formed communities at recognized universities. The value of global migration in the realm of academics, has gained increasing attention in light of the tremendous value migrant students add to host countries' cultural, political and academic landscapes. However, the largest contribution relates to economic gain, which earns host countries billions of US dollars. While migrant students may be ‘welcome' into host communities, evidence points to issues surrounding homesickness, xenophobia, acculturative stress and social adjustment. One of the largest pull factors in student migration is the issue of university rankings. The University of Cape Town (UCT) is described as the ‘Harvard' of Africa due to its global and local ranking. The institution is ranked 1st in Africa and 136th in the world, in part for its international outlook (staff, students and research collaboration) (Times Higher Education, 2020). It is for this reason that students from across the globe traverse to South Africa to obtain a recognised qualification. The seductive power of UCT as a highly ranked university, exerts a tacit, subtle power over IS. Although there is this academic attraction, student experiences of access, participation and belonging may be questionable. Apart from seductive power, overt power, as seen in the application process for visas, study permits and inflated fees for IS, may create barriers to entry. Migrant student experiences may also be affected by the recent and continued volatility in the higher education landscape. Student mass action, centred on the calls for the #feesmustfall / #rhodesmustfall (‘fallist movements') and calls to decolonise higher education, have taken centre stage in the South African academic landscape. This begs the question of where and how IS fit into the struggle of the host nation. Students' ability to cope and acculturate into the host society is influenced by socio-cultural capital, determined largely by their country of origin (global north versus global south). In this regard IS may experience acceptance or marginalisation based on their social capital or by how they are viewed and accepted by the host nation. Students can also build resilience through assimilation, integration and self- marginalisation. The role of host societies and institutions in assisting migrant students to cope with the acculturation process and culture shock is globally, well documented. This researched is aimed at uncovering issues of access, participation and belonging of IS at the University of Cape Town. The aim of this study was explored by asking the following questions: What are the lived experiences of access, belonging and participation of international students at the University of Cape Town? Sub questions: i. What factors motivated students to migrate to South Africa? ii. How did IS experience and negotiate their experiences during the application process? iii. What were their experiences during registration and orientation? iv. What were their experiences academically and socially? v. How did they negotiate their transition from their home countries to South Africa? vi. What are the differences in experience between IS from varying socio-economic, cultural and geographic backgrounds? This qualitative research, using constructivist grounded theory, sought to uncover the experiences of IS through the lens of inclusive education, power, social capital, acculturation and voice research. Addressing issues of inclusive education is sometimes described as a conundrum in seeking to find solutions to, exactly ‘who is included, and into what?' Research indicates that inclusion is rather a layered, grey area rather than a binary of ‘who is in or who is out?' What inclusive education points to however, is the nature of power between students and institutions. The effects of the various types of power relations on IS are greatly influenced by class, culture, race and origin of students. This study captures the experiences of a cohort of 25 IS from various parts of the world and includes representation from both sexes and varying years of study. Findings of this study, relating to access, participation and belonging within the ambits of inclusive education, indicate varying degrees of inclusion. In the main, the political and geographical nature of the country of origin has a pronounced bearing on the experience of the IS. Similarly, the effects of the seductive power of western, coloniality play an integral role in choice of institution. The South African scenario is further complicated by student unrest/ #fallist movements which further alienates IS.