Mkwananzi, Faith (2017). 'Conceptualising higher education aspiration formation among marginalised migrant youth in Johannesburg, South Africa' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Conceptualisation of aspirations remains limited when it comes to educational aspirations of marginalised migrant groups, more so in the South African context. This is as a result of the limited research in the field of migrants’ educational aspirations in this context. Conceptualising higher education aspirations, particularly for marginalised populations such as migrant youth, is important as it helps us to understand the role different factors play in either contributing or obstructing the potential of education as a key capability for human development.

While in practice, the distinction of different types of migrants is complex and remains far from clear, in this paper the term ‘marginalised migrant’ refers to refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. The potential long-term contribution of education for marginalised migrants on development is significant, even though not easily measurable as it encompasses both intrinsic and instrumental contributions in a transnational sphere.

Taken from a PhD project on the lives and educational aspirations of marginalised migrant youth living in Johannesburg, South Africa, this paper considers the theorisation of four types of aspirations and discusses empirical findings on how experiences of marginalisation shape these young people’s educational aspirations. Using the capabilities approach (CA) to analyse the data, the paper argues for four types of aspirations, namely resigned, powerful, persistent and frustrated aspirations. In presenting these four types of aspirations, each type is accompanied by a migrant youth narrative to exemplify the interplay of the various factors that influence the formation of each type of aspiration.  The purpose of conceptualising the four types of aspirations is to illustrate the interplay of diverse conversion factors and different levels of agency. The understanding of these four different types of aspirations is important for both education and human development, as it shows how potential educational aspirations could be raised for the betterment an individual’s life. As such, the construction of the four aspirations provides a different way of thinking about aspiration formation in contexts of marginalisation, disadvantage and vulnerability as experienced by migrant youth in the study, as well as others living in similar environments. In doing so, the paper highlights that although important, material support is on its own inadequate in understanding aspiration formation in disadvantaged contexts. An interaction and intersectionality of a variety of factors including agency and resources should also be considered in aspiration formation among marginalised groups.

Furthermore, the paper illustrates that the formation of higher educational aspirations is complex, as is the environment which shapes them. Addressing marginalisation requires removing barriers that limit opportunities for marginalised youth. Furthermore, such complexity requires an in-depth and comprehensive analysis as a simplistic understanding may overlook the lived realities of marginalised groups.

Therefore the comprehensive nature of the CA provides a substantial contribution with its ability to explain the complex lives of marginalised migrant youth by capturing multiple disadvantages as it cuts across and goes beyond social, political, cultural and economic contexts. In so doing, the framework helps us understand that migrants’ experiences of disadvantage go far beyond the articulation of educational aspirations.

scroll to top