Multidimensional student poverty at a south african university: a case for connected methodologies

Ruswa, Anesu Sam (2019). 'Multidimensional student poverty at a South African university: a case for connected methodologies' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


 This paper stems from a wider PhD project aimed at designing a multidimensional student poverty index at a South African university using the Individual Deprivation Measure and the Alkire-Foster class of measures as guiding methodologies. In this paper, I explore student conceptualisation, experience and understanding of student poverty. Further, I also give a case study of the plight of multidimensional student poverty in South Africa through exploring and measuring multidimensional student poverty at one South African university. Although a number of studies have examined student poverty in South Africa, very few have done so using a multidimensional theoretical approach backed by a socially just and reflexive methodology. I advocate for the human development approach, operationalised through the capabilities approach, as the most socially just theoretical lens through which student poverty can be conceptualised and measured and I use this particular lens to interpret student narratives and also in the design of the measuring instrument. To that end, I adopt and adapt the Alkire-Foster methodology, augmented with the Individual Deprivation Measure, thereby making a methodological contribution through the designing and implementation of a hybrid method. An exploratory sequential mixed methods inquiry is used in the data collection, data analysis and results theorisation phases of the research. Qualitative data was collected through iterative in-depth key informant interviews (three informants interviewed twice each) and four independent rounds of guided focus groups comprising thirty-two students (eight students in each of the three initial groups, and eight in the final follow-up focus group). Participatory methods were employed to determine dimensions of student poverty. Five broad dimensions and twenty-five indicators of student deprivations were identified from the data. The dimensions of deprivations identified are basic needs, resources, living arrangements, participation and personal wellbeing. The qualitative data was analysed using Nvivo software and the results informed the design of the survey questionnaire, which was administered online and by means of hard copies at a South African university using Evasys, which is an electronic survey management platform. Two thousand three hundred and six (2306) students completed the survey. STATA, R, MS-VBA, and SPSS statistical software was used to analyse the quantitative data.  Over and above the results showing the incidence and intensity of student poverty, an aggregate as well as sub-group decomposed multidimensional student poverty index and indices are presented. Multiple statistical and robustness tests were also carried out to test the validity of the index. The study shows that about 18% of the all students at the case study university are multidimensionally poor. More so, male students, students on the government-funded National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and off-campus students have the highest incidences of multidimensional poverty. The mixed methods and hybrid methodology advanced in this study offers more value than purely qualitative or quantitative techniques as it captures both the depth and breadth of student poverty. Beyond making a contribution to how multidimensional student poverty can be measured, I argue in this paper that the study makes a significant contribution to how student poverty is conceptualised and understood in general, thereby giving policy makers a different frame through which to find normative solutions to the challenge of student poverty. 

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