Matthew Lester goes back 30yrs: #FeesMustFall – where’s the private sector?

The question was never going to be if, but rather when will the private sector get dragged into the #FeesMustFall debate. Matthew Lester tells us about his days as a student in the 80’s and how the bank played ball, he also arranged a bursary at an accounting firm, which filled his vacations with work.

Fast forward 30 years, and the facilities are just not there any more. The bank manager’s not listening, or available for that matter, bursaries are a tough nut to crack and paying back a student loan is close to impossible.

And after all of this, while government is taking the criticism it deserves, Lester asks where’s the private sector in all of this. – Stuart Lowman

By Matthew Lester*

Jonathan Jansen wrote a touching piece entitled “there is no such thing as a free lunch".  All about how he struggled to pay for his studies. He really did. But the dividend was a career with students that he really loves. Have a look.

Some say that today’s students want it all on a plate and they are simply not prepared to struggle their way through university like some of the old school did. That’s easy talk.

Back on the Rhodes University Campus in 1980 I walked straight into the bank manager’s office located right next to the university cafeteria. He only had one question: ‘who are you?’. And I got 75% for that.

So the student loan was arranged at an interest rate of 4% pa. And for the next 4 years open door access to my bank manager continued.


Read also: Matthew Lester: SETAs, UIF should be raided, then #FeesMustFall

I arranged a bursary through an accounting firm when I did not know a debit from a credit. But it was far more than that. I was required to do vacation work and assigned to senior clerks who took an active interest in showing students the ropes. And the finer art of drinking a little bit more than a good man should!

If you passed well at Rhodes you were conscripted into becoming a tutor from the second year.  It was useful revision and in fact was the first step towards my enjoyment of lecturing. And a small tutoring fee helped balance the books.

In my post graduate year my residence fees were waived completely. Just so I would stay in residence to provide some form of leadership for younger students.

My Dad took great pride in providing the beer money for 4 years.

So I walked out of Rhodes after 4 years with an accumulated debt of R4 700. I can’t say that repaying it hurt at all.

Read also: Paul Whelan on #FeesMustFall, Govt’s paralysis & passing the buck

Now 30 years later there’s no bank manager on campus. And a student who doesn’t die filling in application forms will come close to it paying it all back after graduation. Unless they work abroad and earn tax-free forex.

Student bursaries are still there. But a student has to be really special to get help.

Good and relevant vacation work for students has died.

Post-graduate residence bursaries are a fraction of what they were.

The culture of tutoring your fellow student seems to have died.

And parents simply cannot afford the fees.

Government is taking the rap for the crisis that is #FeesMustFall. And criticism is due. But where is the private sector in all of this mess? Far more is needed!

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