/ 21 October 2016

Letters to the editor: October 21 to 27 2016

Most matriculants want a university degree
Most matriculants want a university degree

Is varsity tuition worth it?

With all the protests rocking universities, I am left wondering: Is a university education still worth it? The protests have shone a light on how the academy has sidelined, isolated and excluded mainly black, women and minority students through language policies, an institutional culture that is still racist, sexist and conservative, a curriculum devoid of African thought and a visible but often taboo subject – university education is expensive and only a few can afford it.

But the protests have failed to articulate the case for a university education. Is it still worth it? Is university the only way to succeed in one’s career or life?

Universities are rated more highly than other tertiary institutions such as vocational training colleges by students and their parents, because university graduates are more likely to be employed and will probably earn well; unemployment rates are lowest among graduates, according to research done by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

University education, however, is costly. Perhaps the free education movement will change that, but I believe there is nothing for mahala in life – you will pay for it one way or another. One result of the protests might be that it takes longer to complete a degree because of chronic instability and because a university education is downgraded to junk status.

And what about vocational training? The government and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) do not seem to support the efforts of such schools in giving students much-needed skills. Yet many employers view students from these schools in a positive light. Netcare, for example, trains nurses and paramedics for posts in its medical facilities. Students can study while working for Netcare, so they can earn as well.

The quality of the technical colleges leaves much to be desired but they could be improved through consolidation and specialisation or by partnering with universities.

NSFAS has to take into account the actuarial risk that 50% of students drop out. The risk of write-downs because of dropout rates can be lessened if better career guidance is instituted. This should go beyond psychometric tests: people need to be exposed to careers in a practical way. Maybe students should be required to take a gap year, to volunteer, take short courses or work in preparation for university.

This could bring some maturity to career choices, leading to better outcomes if these young people go to university. – Mike Idagiza, Katlehong

Our greatness is built on Christianity

One’s first reaction to the Mail & Guardian editorial Free the mind, decolonise religion is to dismiss it as puerile. But, wading into it, one realises the extent of the manipulation being attempted, which requires a response.

At the outset the editorial posits that “real decolonisation” is needed, admitting that “many liberation” governments continued exploitation by perpetuating colonial structures. It then punts the real bugbear: the “mental colony” of Christianity.

The atrocities of Boko Haram in mainly Islamic northeastern Nigeria are described as a “religious war”. This is misleading; they result from government neglect, corruption and maladministration, just as Islamic State fills the voids in the Middle East and latterly Libya.

As one has come to expect from this kind of “analysis”, one finds the by now standard references to white elites, forms of whiteness and the white West, all of which have been instrumental in this Christian mental enslavement. Then, at the end, comes a further sleight of hand: as in the abolition of slavery, “Christian leaders, acting on their religious beliefs, played a vital role in South Africa’s struggle for freedom”. What sort of enslavement made these leaders act in this way?

This contorted piece of nonsense gives the game away. Christianity is fine as long as it assists us in getting what we want.

Then it becomes less attractive because we now have to live by its precepts, such as recognising the absolute worth and absolute responsibility of every human being.

Christianity is more than a “religious belief”. It becomes a way of life. What is called Western civilisation internalised its precepts and underwent a blossoming possibly unique in history. John Langalibalele Dube, the founder of the South African Native Congress, saw the Christian way of life as associated with “freedom, education and civilisation”. Many subsequent liberation leaders were guided by Christianity.

The Nobel-winning economist Friedrich Hayek called Christianity the cornerstone of economic development in his 1985 essay The Presumption of Reason. It is also the cornerstone of all the great institutions on which South Africa prides itself: the rule of law, world-class cities and educational institutions, social services and housing and health services.

The degree to which our recent national leaders have strayed from Christian principles is the degree to which the current crisis now threatens our great institutions. – Ron Schurink and Balt Verhagen, Johannesburg