Beyond #FeesMustFall: International students, fees and everyday agency in the era of decolonisation

Raghuram, Parvati; Breines, Markus Roos and Gunter, Ashley (2020). Beyond #FeesMustFall: International students, fees and everyday agency in the era of decolonisation. Geoforum, 109 pp. 95–105.



The #FeesMustFall movement focused on the financial struggles of historically disadvantaged black students in South Africa. However, if decolonisation is to go beyond national boundaries and to incorporate pan-African visions fees must fall, not only in South Africa, but also for international students. Yet, international students and their financial situations are often overlooked in discussions over fees as they are seen as foreigners, or as privileged and seeking to reproduce advantage through international study. Although international fees cross-subsidise national students, international students are seen as an export category rather than at the level of the individual, so that the actual costs of study to the students is often ignored. This paper addresses that gap by examining how international distance education students studying at the University of South Africa (UNISA) navigate fees. We draw upon students’ narratives to highlight the proactive and reactive agency they deploy to afford and manage fee payments. These quieter registers of everyday agency around fees demonstrate the entanglement of national and international fees in higher education. In particular, we suggest that focusing on international student fees raises important questions about whether lowering fees for higher education students, one part of the decolonisation agenda, should be contained within national borders.

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