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South African Journal of Higher Education

On-line version ISSN 1753-5913


GREEFF, M.; MOSTERT, K.; KAHL, C.  and  JONKE, C.. The #FeesMustFall protests in South Africa: exploring first-year students' experiences at a peri-urban university campus. S. Afr. J. High. Educ. [online]. 2021, vol.35, n.4, pp.78-103. ISSN 1753-5913.

Students experienced unique challenges in transitioning to their first-year during the FeesMustFall (#FMF) protest actions. It is important to examine students' first-year adjustment experiences amidst study disruptions to ensure better outcomes of first-year study experiences. The impact of protest actions on the economy, higher education institutions (HEIs) and the individual student may be harmful when not managed effectively. The current study aims to clarify the first-year experience to explore how South African first-year students enrolled at a peri-urban university campus experienced the #FMF protest actions. The peri-urban university campus serves a large rural catchment area. Using the Mmogo-method® and unstructured individual interviews, researchers gathered in-depth experiences of fifteen participants who provided insight into their subjective experiences of their first-year transitions during the #FMF movement. Thematic analysis resulted in four themes: Clashes between students and police or campus security; the impact of protest actions on students' lives; psychological experiences of trauma and physical harm; and student attitudes towards and needs in times of crisis. The study uncovered the experiences of first-year students at a peri-urban campus. The knowledge gathered could aid universities to develop proactive measures to minimize the impact of the protest actions or disruptions on the institution itself, students and stakeholders involved.

Keywords : #FMF protests; peri-urban; rural-origin students; first-year experiences; Higher Educational Institutions (HEI); university; South Africa.

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