Original Research

(Non)fungibility of socio-cultural capital for rural-based students in South African universities

Nonhlanhla P. Khumalo, Nyamadzawo Sibanda
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 19, No 1 | a1321 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v19i1.1321 | © 2023 Nonhlanhla P. Khumalo, Nyamadzawo Sibanda | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 December 2022 | Published: 31 August 2023

About the author(s)

Nonhlanhla P. Khumalo, Writing Centre, Durban University of Technology, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Nyamadzawo Sibanda, African Centre of Migration and Society, Faculty of Humanities, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


The number of university students coming from rural areas has significantly increased in South Africa in the last two decades. While this is a positive sign of inclusive social growth and development, the fact that 70% of South African universities are still located in urban areas creates challenges for a number of these students. This is also compounded by the fact that most rural schools in South Africa offer sub-optimal preparation for post-school activities. As such, the first barrier for most of these students is negotiating various levels of access to higher education (HE), using forms of social and cultural capital that may be incommensurate with urban-based HE institutions. Using an in-depth review of literature on the subject of rural education, transition to higher education, student success and reflections on the professional experience of the authors in student support services in higher education. This study argues that since most South African universities are “urban enclaves”, students from rural areas take time to adapt and accumulate relevant socio-cultural capital to enable them to thrive and succeed. The transition of students from rural schools to urban-based universities is a socio-cultural as much as it is an epistemological mobility. As such, this “troubled transition” of rural students can be ameliorated through a trans-sectoral or transdisciplinary transitional intervention to simultaneously enable epistemological access and create commensurate socio-cultural capital. However, previous interventions on student transition have been generic and lacked the nuanced intersectional analysis of rurality on student access and success.

Transdisciplinary contribution: The study proposes a trans-sectoral or transdisciplinary transitional space in which education institutions (basic and HE) collaborate with government and non-state partners to ensure sufficient and effective transition, especially for rural school learners.


higher education; socio-cultural capital; rural students; transition; transdisciplinary.

JEL Codes

I21: Analysis of Education; I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions; I24: Education and Inequality

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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