By Tafi Mhaka
What can three of four years of tough scholarly pursuits at a university afford you in the wildly exhilarating but strangely sobering aftermath of life after university?
Not much, I dare say.
All you will have after you graduate is an absurdly expensive graduation outfit, which you are unlikely to ever wear again, a grand-looking certificate you can display high up on your mother’s living room wall, and a couple of wacky high-definition graduation party photos you can post on your Instagram page.
Trust me: beyond that – you won’t have much more to post, laugh or brag about.
You might get the creditors breathing down your neck as your student loan debt balloons and you start to default on payments.
That is it.
That is all you will get. And that is it: that is the big problem: Institutions of higher learning have become huge white elephants.
That is the giant proverbial elephant shadowing this worrisome and acrimonious fees saga.
Does the system – the private sector, the country that is, require thousands of university graduates, every year, who lack the basic skills desperately sought by South African industry?
Unless you study medicine or rocket science – which 99.9% of students won’t – you will probably leave university quite unprepared for work in any capacity, yet the system pays so much to its highly regarded educators and staff.
Don’t get me wrong: most of them are highly-educated and experienced professionals, who deserve just rewards for the magnificent work they do.
But what are they really paid for, when the graduates they nurture – for a small fortune, so it seems, hardly flourish in the system?
And that is precisely what is creating a wave of deep fear and burning discontent among the students who have chosen to protest.
The same system that places a precious premium on higher learning as a means to success is spreading a fear of dismal failure in life – as well as an unfathomable fear of social immobility for others.
The mega madness over getting a degree is absolutely crazy and justified all at once.
Many students reasonably wonder: Will I get a job and get married and have a family and buy a house and stuff if I don’t have a degree?
Others rightly wonder: Will I be able to pull my poor mother out of her desperately impoverished state?
This just may be the right moment to ask: Is a universal university system still that relevant at all?
In a sharply-focused system where students enrol for a variety of specific and intensive work-related training courses for 2 years or less – the fees are likely to be fairly affordable and far much less than the astronomically ridiculous fees being bandied about for next year.
In a system where graduates have work-ready skills at their fingertips – most will have the hands-on capabilities to become highly-productive members of society should they not find jobs.
In a system where the world’s best entrepreneurs – most of them are billionaires like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Rachael Ray, Kevin Rose, Larry Ellison, David Green, CEOs whose business empires create unimaginable wealth and millions of jobs and make the system work – chose to forgo a university education, we must ask ourselves: should the fees go?
Or should the system should go?