We asked university students to tell their own stories in photos: here’s why

Research shows that academic staff are often unaware of the socio-linguistic barriers students from rural backgrounds face. For this reason, university students from rural areas can be wrongly seen as inarticulate or less intelligent. They may be treated as if they have nothing valuable to add to the world’s body of knowledge, or as if they cannot benefit from it …

For example, many of them experience “unbelonging” at university. Some of this is income-based (worries over fees, accommodation, not having a laptop or suitable clothes or enough food). It can also be about their experiences of teaching and learning, or feeling excluded from student life.

We conclude from these findings that universities could do more to support these students. They should also do more to recognise the potential, agency and determination that low-income students bring to the challenges they face.

To complement the data from the life-history interviews, we used a variety of approaches – including photovoice. Photovoice is a participatory visual approach to conducting research. It’s based on the idea that photographs can be used to stimulate dialogue and explore solutions.

By Mikateko Mathebula, University of the Free State, Australia

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