Exploring students’ perceptions towards African immigrants in South African tertiary education.
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This study examined the perceptions of students from tertiary institutions, with specific focus on the Howard College campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, towards African immigrants in South Africa. Xenophobia has been found to be widespread and negative perceptions towards African immigrants have been found in high schools but have not been well examined in South African universities. Xenophobic attitudes were found to be an obstacle towards quality contact with, and for, collaboration between local and immigrant students. This attitude had made immigrant students to feel less accepted, created a state of mistrust with local students, and elicited fear for safety, as well affected academic performance. The study investigated local students’ attitudes and beliefs towards African immigrants and the level of contacts/interaction with immigrants. This study used quantitative methodology, characterized by a positivistic approach. It statistically described local students’ perceptions, attitudes and beliefs towards African immigrants. The sample size was 363 first year psychology students at Howard College Campus of the university. However, only 347 participants returned their questionnaires. The participants were mainly students of South African origin. Data collection was done through a self-administered survey. The findings of this study indicated that locals had negative and positive perceptions towards immigrants. On one hand, immigrants were perceived as threats; this was found to be caused by fear. On the other hand, the participants believed that skilled immigrants made valuable contributions to South Africa. Although students had general knowledge of immigrants, findings showed there was not regular quality contact with immigrants, such as a friendship. Education and other ways that increased contacts between the locals and the immigrants were found to be the most important mechanisms to reduce the xenophobic phenomenon, and negative attitudes towards African immigrants. They were also important in promoting integration of immigrants into South African communities as well as in tertiary institutions. It was found that there was a need to educate local South Africans about immigrants and the reasons behind immigration, and, that it would also be beneficial to educate immigrants about South African laws and cultures.