Social media ‘integral’ to SA students’ lives

12 November 2013

South Africa’s students are addicted to social media – but are almost unanimous that it enhances their academic and social lives, and even helps them during exam time, according to a recent study from researchers World Wide Worx and Student Brands.

The SA High-tech Student 2013 research study, which was released last month, was conducted at universities and colleges across South Africa, and included interviews with 1 435 students.

Well over half – 59% – said they were addicted to social media. However, only 16% fell into the “highly addicted” category, while 18% said they were “definitely not addicted”. Instant messaging (IM) had similar appeal to students: 62% said they were addicted, of which 22% said they were highly addicted to the quick fix of quick chat.

However, respondents felt that this addiction was not necessarily a bad thing. While 45% of respondents said social networking and technology got in the way of their studies, only 10% said it was a constant problem. A surprising 85% said it improved their studies, with a similar proportion – 83% – believing it enhanced their social lives. Asked what impact technology like smartphones and the internet had on their lives in general, 81% said it enhanced their quality of life.

“For students, social networking and the internet is not a good or a bad thing in itself, but has become an integral part of their lives,” Daryl Bartkunsky, managing director of Student Brands, said in a statement.

Facebook first, then Twitter

Facebook was the universal social destination for students, with 96% of respondents using it, with Twitter used by 70% of respondents. Google+ slotted into third place, at 47%, thanks to the pervasive use of Google Apps for student accounts at universities. Mxit still retained a strong user base, with 39% of respondents reporting they used it.

LinkedIn, the professional network, claimed a 29% share, largely students who are nearing completion of their studies and using it for employment prospects. Instagram and Pinterest, relative newcomers to the social networking environment, attracted 16% and 15% of respondents respectively.

When asked which network they would use if they could only choose one, two-thirds (64%) still cited Facebook. Twitter was in distant second at 16%, followed by Google+ with 7%, Instagram 5%, Mxit 3% and LinkedIn 3%. Only 1% favoured Pinterest.

Instant messaging

Among instant messaging (IM) apps, similar levels of dominance were seen, this time led by WhatsApp, which was used by 79% of students participating in the survey, and BBM, at 57%. Facebook Messenger claimed 45%, and Mxit 28%.

BBM use was directly correlated with the proportion of students who used BlackBerry: 57%. Despite its fading popularity worldwide, it remained the preferred phone among students. Nokia was in a distant second place, at only 20%, with Samsung further back in third place, at 14%, and the iPhone fourth at 5%.

Among other findings, the survey found that 68% of students connected to the internet via smartphones, 61% via laptops or notebook computers, 50% on desktop PCs – largely using universities’ and colleges’ machines – and 20% on tablets. This trend was driven by some institutions providing laptops and tablets to students, and low-cost financing of devices by student financial services like Eduloan.

Campus wi-fi set to rule

In terms of channel of access, 60% used wi-fi on campus, 40% used 3G modems, and 39% used mobile data on their phones. However, a total shift to wi-fi is expected in the next two years.

“By 2015, all universities are required to be wireless, providing free internet access for students,” Bartkunsky said. “Already, the University of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town have stated that all first-year students will have to have a tablet or laptop by 2015.”

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck pointed out that the cost of mobile data was a major inhibitor for students.

“A little more than a third of respondents were happy with what they pay for internet access,” Goldstuck said. ‘But 31% are unhappy with the cost and 30% don’t pay at all. For students, the move away from mobile data services is a matter of when, not if.”

World Wide Worx and SAinfo reporter