Michelle Govender

Michelle Govender

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

Should the human right to higher education be free? That is the interesting topic Michelle Govender is exploring for her PhD in law.

“I’m South African and the #feesmustfall movement mobilised students around the country in 2015 when they demanded that access to higher education be made free at all universities in South Africa. Amid huge media exposure and the destruction of university property by angry students, in the background a very real debate began about this topic.

“This single example of cries worldwide to make higher education freely available got me thinking about why having an education would be important to students. Can we legitimately argue that it’s not just a good idea, but imperative to remove the barriers and enable people to learn a skill post-high school so that they’re able to live their best lives in the 21st century?”

This is research worth doing, Michelle says.

“Studies show that while there has been a steady increase in the number of students going to university, these numbers are still for students in higher socio-economic brackets and who live mainly in developed countries. Finances remain the biggest hindrance to the decision of whether a child who finishes high school will move on to a tertiary qualification. It’s time to reconsider how we make social changes that impact society from the bottom up.”

A challenging journey
Choosing to study at AUT was easy for Michelle.

“I applied to a few universities, expressing interest in doing a PhD. AUT was the only one that responded with human contact and support throughout the application process. Technology has changed the way businesses operate and we’re constantly expected to interact with machines. That can be a frustrating process when you’re halfway across the world trying to figure out the rest of your life.”

While she is enjoying the flexibility a PhD offers, the lack of structure also comes with some challenges, Michelle admits.

“I’m learning that there has to be some structure, and I really enjoy the interactions with my main supervisor, Professor Kris Gledhill. There are many components of this programme I would recommend but I think more structure and support are needed in the first year of the PhD as the confirmation process can be challenging for students who, like me, haven’t studied for a long time.

“My supervisor has been very supportive with helping me get on board – not just with my study but with great pastoral care as well. I’ve also attended many of the graduate workshops offered by AUT, and this has helped immensely. However, one of the most important aspects of this journey for me was the support from fellow PhD students.”

Advice for other students
Expecting to complete her PhD in 2022, Michelle has some great advice for other students.

“The PhD journey is long and hard. But if it is something you really want to achieve, then don’t give up on it.

“Be diligent with your work. Prioritise your study time. It’s easy to get caught up in everyday life, so being meticulous with your time priorities is an absolute must.”

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