October 22, 2015

Is there a difference between an education and a degree?


22 October 2015

Dear Student,

Go to University for an Education, not a Degree

I’m happy to see that with the recent Rhodes statue protest (#RhodesMustFall) and now the fee increase protests (#FeesMustFall), our taxpayer money and your parents’ money is being well spent.

It might be galling for those of us on the outside looking in. But, this is as it should be. This is your real education. You’re flexing your mental muscles, your communication skills, your persuasion skills, your social consciousness and your need to stand for something.

What most students and their doting parents miss is that university is about education. It has never been about the degree you get at the end. The degree in itself is a useless piece of paper. The value you derive from the process of achieving the degree is priceless.

Your education teaches you how to think. Your degree teaches you what to think.

Letting go of your mother’s apron strings.

By letting go of your mother’s apron strings and ending up in a melting pot of conflicting ideologies, race and culture is the most wonderful opportunity for you.

You’re exposed to new ideas, different cultures, differing viewpoints and opposing religions. You have an opportunity to engage with this cauldron of difference and learn from it. If you’re astute, you’ll take every opportunity to test your tolerance, exercise your intellect and bury your prejudices.

Along the way you’ll probably find that our hues and view may be different, but our sentiment are the same. No matter what vessel the spirit is housed in, we all want security, power, harmony and fulfilment, don’t we?

Your degree speaks only to your ability to to sit still long enough to absorb and retain vast amount of knowledge. If you were tested six months after graduation, how much would you really remember? Your education gives you a chance to start building the foundations for your character.

How you conduct yourself in the short time you’re at university speaks volumes for your character now and far into the future.

Yesterday and the preceding weeks leading up to the storming of Parliament were a test of how far your character has developed. How’d you conduct yourself? Were you part of a ravenous, emotional, unthinking mob mentality? Or did you conduct yourself with nobility?

Don’t worry. Neither answer is wrong. If you reflect on and think about how you handled yesterday, it may give you a moment of pause. Don’t lose the lesson. It will serve you well in years to come.

I have a right to be educated.

I know you think you have a right to be educated (preferably for free). But you do get that your ‘rights’ mentality makes you weak, don’t you? You are giving others power over you and your destiny. The government, the university and your parents all have the power to withhold your education. There’s little in your control when you think you have rights. You could perhaps be a bit more circumspect and realise that you are so blessed to be able to go to university. Thousands of others would love to be in your shoes, but aren’t.

Understand that you also have a duty. You do get that in most instances it is your dear parents that have sweated, slaved and gone without to give you this amazing opportunity. You have a duty to honour them and actually get down to some work so that you can get that cherished degree (which in the grand scheme of things means little … more on this later).

You don’t have the right to take their hard-earned money and wipe your backside with it. Yes, I know you’ve been untied from your mother’s apron strings and released from a cloistered life into a candy store of temptation and choice: sex, alcohol, drugs, attend classes, don’t attend classes, study don’t, study sleep in, sleep around.

You’re probably aware that the student failure rate is massive … possibly because of the inappropriate choices the drop outs make.

Remember, whatever happens from hereon in is a choice. A choice you make.


Of course you have a right to protest if things are grossly unfair. But, you have a choice as to how you conduct yourself in the process. You can do it peacefully or violently, you can take people hostage or not, you can trash your classrooms or not and you can invade parliament or not. It’s up to you … it’s your choice. And, there’s no getting away from it, every choice you make has a consequence.

You can choose to get an education or you can choose to get a degree.

An education helps form you into a useful human being. A degree … not so much. I implore you to get a good education – develop your people skills, be tolerant of others and their beliefs, learn how to communicate, practice becoming more persuasive and become more benevolent in everything you do.

The harsh truth of the matter is that your education is going to get you through this human endeavour, not your precious degree.

The real world of work is harsh.

The real world of work is not a pretty place. I say this for three reasons:

#1 There are not enough jobs out there for all of you.

The reality is that more than 60% of you will not be able to work in the field you want to, if at all. Many of you will go scuttling back to your parents, skiving off them for goodness knows how long because that piece of paper you value so highly is not likely to put food on the table.

May I suggest that you be nice to your manager at your waitering job because you might be there a lot longer than you anticipated. Those tax-free tips are going to come in mighty handy.

If you’re lucky enough to get a job, in the majority of cases it won’t be in the field you trained for. And, horror of horrors, you’ll probably be working in one or other sales job. This field seems to have the lowest barrier to entry (much to the detriment of the sales profession) and pretty much anyone can get in. Yeah, I know … being a sales person was never in your plan, was it? That’s why I’ve been harping on getting an education. You need to brush up on those life skills, persuasion, listening and thinking skills if you want to come out of the other side of the sales maelstrom alive. Coming out with your ego, your pride and a sense of worth, will be an added bonus.

#2 Your degree doesn’t put food on the table, your education does

If you’re lucky enough to be employed in your chosen field, in no way does your degree prepare you for the rigours of your job. That piece of paper only gives you a fraction of the knowledge actually needed to be useful to your employer. Some of you will drop out (or be forced to drop out) here and scurry back to your parents because the real world of work does not reward the degreed, it rewards those that can do the work.

The education you received at university will serve you in good stead now. How you conducted yourself at university will show your true pedigree. If you made the most of your education; your discipline, your resilience and your ability to get along with people will ensure that you survive and thrive in your place of work.

#3 Your chosen field of study is not your passion

Studying in the wrong field (if you even wanted to study at all) is probably the worst part for many people. Those of you that are fulfilling your parents failed dreams at the expense of your own, know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

It will become a soul-sapping, debilitating and disastrous journey that won’t end well. There’ll be recriminations, there’ll be tears and there’ll be disappointment … from both sides.

So, figure out what you want. An education or a degree. The choice you make today will give us the adult of tomorrow. Protest if you must (and you must) … but do it with dignity. Claim your rightful place in this world by getting an education and not a degree.

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