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Black African Undergrads Face Unique Obstacles in UKZN Research



Black African Undergrads Face Unique Obstacles in UKZN Research

Black African Undergrads Face Unique Obstacles in UKZN Research. For many South African students, the dream of university entrance marks the beginning of an exciting chapter, promising a bright and prosperous future. However, the reality often diverges significantly from these expectations, especially for Black African students who face numerous systemic challenges. Dr. Siyanda Cele’s groundbreaking research delves into these difficulties, providing a comprehensive exploration of the barriers these students encounter in higher education.

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The Scope and Focus of Cele Research

Dr. Siyanda Cele, who recently earned his PhD in Social Justice Education, concentrated his thesis on the integration and attrition of Black African undergraduate students in selected South African universities. His work, titled “A Critical Exploration of Student Integration and Attrition of Black African Undergraduate Students from Selected South African Universities,” sought to identify and analyze the myriad factors that affect both the academic and social experiences of these students. Drawing from his own experiences and those of his peers, Cele examined obstacles such as language barriers, economic hardships, racial exclusion, gender issues, familial backgrounds, and the inadequacies of high school preparation.

Key Findings and Implications

Cele’s study highlighted several critical findings:

  1. Language Barriers: Many Black African students struggle with the medium of instruction, which is often not their first language, leading to academic difficulties and feelings of inferiority.
  2. Economic Hardship: Financial constraints force students to juggle academic responsibilities with part-time work, affecting their performance and persistence.
  3. Navigational Challenges: The complexities of university systems, coupled with limited access to technological resources, hinder students’ ability to integrate both academically and socially.
  4. Intersectional Issues: The combined effects of racial exclusion, gender biases, and financial challenges exacerbate feelings of isolation and inadequacy among students.

Cele emphasized the necessity for systemic reforms to address these issues, advocating for policies that promote inclusivity and equitable access to higher education. His recommendations include enhancing language support, expanding financial assistance programs, providing tailored support services, implementing culturally relevant curricula, and addressing gender biases and family-related challenges. Additionally, he pointed out the need to improve high school preparation for university education.

Personal and Professional Journey

Graduating with his PhD at the age of 30, Dr. Cele’s academic journey is marked by resilience and determination. He credits his success to his family’s unwavering support, particularly his mother, whose belief in him fueled his perseverance. Cele also expressed deep gratitude for his supervisor, Dr. Claire Gaillard, whose mentorship from his honors through to his PhD played a crucial role in his academic development.

Dr. Gaillard lauded Cele’s dedication and humility, noting his ability to overcome personal challenges while maintaining a strong spiritual conviction and respect for her guidance. She celebrated his achievement, acknowledging the significant impact of his hard work and determination.

Beyond Academia | Community Impact

Growing up as the sixth of eight siblings, Dr. Cele understands the value of hard work and giving back to the community. He founded the NED Vico Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at empowering youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through this foundation, he is committed to making a positive impact both in academia and in the broader community.

Currently a full-time lecturer at the University of South Africa (UNISA), Dr. Cele continues to pursue his goals with passion and dedication. His commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and mentorship underscores his desire to empower others to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to society.


Dr. Siyanda Cele research not only highlights the systemic barriers faced by Black African undergraduate students but also provides a roadmap for creating a more inclusive and supportive higher education environment. His personal journey and professional dedication serve as an inspiration for others striving to overcome similar challenges.

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