Questioning Student Mobility Models in HOI in South Africa

By Dingaan Booi, Officer International Relations: Strategic, Initiatives and Partnerships

In contemplating the direction South African universities should take regarding study abroad programs, a critical question arises: should they prioritize a fee-paying model over the traditional reciprocal credit-bearing programs? This question, fraught with implications for accessibility and equity in higher education, demands careful consideration within the context of shifting socioeconomic landscapes.

As of February 2024, currency exchange rates starkly delineate the financial disparities faced by South African students: the US dollar stands at 19, the Euro at 20, and the British Pound at 23 to the South African rand. Such figures underscore the financial hurdles confronting students aspiring to participate in international academic endeavors.

Moreover, the demographic composition of higher education in South Africa paints a telling picture. With an increasing number of students reliant on state sponsorship through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the landscape of higher education is becoming predominantly populated by individuals from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Dr. Blade Nzimande’s recent statement underscores this reality, revealing that NSFAS students are projected to constitute over 70 percent of the undergraduate student population in public higher education institutions (Nzimande, 2024). This statistic translates to a majority of students hailing from households with gross incomes below R350,000 per annum, or R29,167 per month.[1]

Against this backdrop of socioeconomic disparity, the incongruity between inbound and outbound student mobility figures becomes all the more glaring. Institutions of higher learning must confront this disparity with a sense of urgency, recognizing the imperative to prioritize equality, mutuality, and sustainability in their educational initiatives.

Reciprocal arrangements, warrant renewed scrutiny in light of these realities. While fee-paying models may promise financial solvency for institutions, they also risk exacerbating existing inequalities by further excluding economically disadvantaged students from transformative global learning experiences. In contrast, reciprocal credit-bearing programs offer a pathway toward greater inclusivity, providing students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds with opportunities for meaningful engagement on the international stage.

The imperative for universities to re-evaluate their approach to mobility programs extends beyond mere economic considerations. It is fundamentally a question of equity and social justice. By prioritizing reciprocal arrangements, institutions can actively dismantle barriers to access, fostering a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.

Moreover, embracing reciprocal credit-bearing programs aligns with broader imperatives of global citizenship and intercultural understanding. By facilitating meaningful cross-cultural exchange, universities not only enrich the educational experiences of their students but also contribute to the cultivation of a more globally minded citizenry. This said how do institution balance these imperatives in the face of the socioeconomic realities at present?

In conclusion, the question of whether South African universities should prioritize fee-paying study abroad models over reciprocal credit-bearing programs is not merely a matter of financial pragmatism—it is a question of values, ethics and morality. In an educational landscape characterized by widening socioeconomic gaps institutions must reaffirm their commitment to equity, diversity inclusivity, and social justice. By embracing reciprocal arrangements, universities can take meaningful strides towards creating a more just and sustainable future for all students.


Nzimande , B. (2024) Minister Blade Nzimande: Post School Education and training sector state of readiness for academic year 2024, Minister Blade Nzimande: Post School Education and Training sector state of readiness for academic year 2024 | South African Government. Available at: (Accessed: 14 February 2024).