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From California to South Africa, students are going hungry

Going hungry. Source: Shutterstock

It doesn’t matter if you’re in Africa or an elite university in California. Hunger in campus is real and it’s causing serious consequences to the students affected.

Recent reports reveal that many students in African universities increasingly do not have enough food daily, impacting their academic performance, according to University World News.

Hunger is not conducive to learning “because an empty stomach does not give you an opportunity to learn”, Rise Against Hunger Africa CEO Saira Khan told UWN.

“Therefore, hunger (among students) in universities must be tackled in order to afford students an opportunity to pass,” Khan said, adding that initiatives to address the problem are underway on campuses in South Africa.

Data on how pervasive the problem is in South Africa is lacking. But according to a sample of 1,083 students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, 20.8 percent reported some level of vulnerability to food insecurity, 16.1 percent experienced serious levels of vulnerability, and 4.7 percent experienced severe to critical levels of vulnerability to food insecurity.

At the University of the Free State in South Africa, a report showed 60 percent experienced food insecurity “with hunger”, and 26 percent experienced food insecurity “without hunger”.

America Too

In an op-ed, Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University wrote about how US colleges and universities of all sorts are plagued by the problem of student hunger. Community colleges and state schools, the types of institutions most Americans attend, are particularly affected by this.

The stats are worrying: 30 percent of community college students and 22 percent of four-year college students are food insecure, according to a forthcoming study by the City University of New York.

“The new economics of college led us into this mess. The cost of higher education is at an all-time high, which is in sharp contrast to the declining income and wealth of most American families,” wrote Goldrick-Rab, who is also the author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream.

While it is normal for some struggling during college (and resorting to instant noodles), what’s happening today tells of a worsening food insecurity crisis on American campuses. There is less financial aid for working parents, homelessness is becoming more routine, and states are allocating fewer dollars per student.

Depending on food stamps is difficult too – students have to prove they are working 20 hours a week on top of going to school. This is assuming they are able to even find flexible, part-time jobs to complement their college timetable in a difficult job market.

“It makes sense that students work hard to go to college to achieve stability, and it is tragic that many fail to complete degrees because they cannot escape poverty long enough to focus on their studies.

Goldrick-Rab called for long-term, preventive solutions to supplement quick fixes to the crisis. Food donations must come hand in hand with food distribution and pricing on campus. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp programme for students should be expanded too.

Colleges should step up as well, and follow in the footsteps of Boston’s Bunker Hill Community College which now distribute meal vouchers or Texas’s Houston Community College in providing grocery scholarships.

“After all, it’s impossible to learn when you’re starving.”

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