Varsity Got in the Way of my Dream Career

2017-06-20 04:01

I used to work at a restaurant in a previous life. Uniform, name badge, apron, perma-smile, the whole design. It was close to the end of the year, which meant - if you work at a restaurant - a lot of tips are coming your way. There was this Christmas Week festival of sorts they used to throw in the town where I worked, everyone went. Roads got closed, the street filled with pop-up stands, stages got set up, people got spending.   I can’t remember exactly how much I had saved in my account but it was a lot for how much I was earning. In fact I worked better jobs later and still never managed to be as disciplined with money as I was back then. All I remember is I wanted to register at university the following year. I’d spoken to my parents about it, and the whole idea was that I’d cover my registration fees with the money I’d saved. The rest we’d figure once I was in, student card in hand, and a ‘bright future’ ahead of me.   The plan wasn’t as naive as it sounds in retrospect. Wits was the stuff of urban legends back then. The name alone opened doors. If you went there, you had ‘the edge’. The idea that getting enrolled was victory in itself wasn’t silly, it was the most logical thing someone in my position could conclude at the time. All those stats about job market penetration, the number one university in this or that, you'd walk into campus and the whole place would smell like bursary opportunities. Dreams were sold, and I was the number one customer.   It all came apart little by little at first. Then a little more, and then a lot. Before I knew it I couldn’t get into the libraries or computer labs because I still hadn’t found a miracle bursary, miracle marks or miracle food and accommodation money. I’ll always resent that it took that much for me to realise how high a pedestal I'd placed higher education on.   In a way this is a letter to my younger self, to tell myself that all those 'qualifications job' posts mention are really optional. In 2012 I really needed someone to tell me that I’d get the same jobs as everyone that did their undergrad and postgrad degrees. This is a letter to anyone that thinks their ‘lack of qualifications’ is a disadvantage. It’s a letter to say no school controls your prosperity, you do.   When you grow up around joblessness, you’ll believe any fairy tales you hear about the world of work. You’ll believe you have to pay someone to get your CV to the top of the pile. You’ll believe it’s better to work for a lot less, so long as you’re working. You’ll believe that sex is part of the application process. Before you judge people that fall victim to scams like these, always remember that not everyone’s as ‘woke’ as you are. One of the many ways inequality manifests itself is in the way we perceive our circumstances. Also, don't underestimate the lengths people will go when they’re desperate enough. I remember once going to an interview for a job with a spec I knew was shady. Got there to realise it was a scam more elaborate than I initially thought. So I was suspicious to begin with, yes - but I was too desperate to just scroll past it.    Similar insecurities keep the higher education system in business. No one in their right mind would pay R80 000 a year on average for a qualification they thought is only optional. No one would sacrifice their days, nights and weekends studying for a degree they feel will make them another one of two thousand job other applicants for the same post. When everyone’s got the mandatory 3- or 4-year qualification, who really has ‘The Edge’?   What really sets us apart - what's always set us apart - is who we are and what we believe in. The big mistake most of us make when starting our careers is believing in our employers before we start believing in ourselves. Give me a tertiary school curriculum, and I can probably Google some links to the exact same information free of charge. If you really want to learn something, there’s never been an easier time to do so. It’s time we starved universities and fed our own dreams, instead of the other way around.  

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