An intelligent approach to one of life’s most important decision Thousands of prospective students are currently making two of the biggest decisions of their lives: deciding where to study and what to study. And it is a decision that is complicated not only by a lack of information about the options available, but also by the severely limited number of spaces for first-year students at the few universities in South Africa.

“Choosing the right tertiary education facility is one of the biggest decisions young people face, as the tertiary education facility they will attend over the next few years will provide them with the knowledge, skills and relationships on which they will build their careers and their future success,” comments Holger Schonfeld, Senior Managing Partner of the College for Business & Maritime Studies (CBMS), based in
Braamfontein. “It is crucial to realise that university is not the only option and to understand the outcomes provided by the different types of tertiary education facilities, to ensure you select the right one that will help you achieve your goals.”

A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A 3-year undergraduate degree provides a student with an academic foundation for further studies. As the University of Johannesburg’s website succinctly explains it: “A general curriculum may be followed in order to obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Bachelor of Science (BSc), or Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) degree. Usually this type of qualification has to be followed by additional postgraduate studies in order to prepare you for a career in a specific field. A degree has a more theoretical and less practical basis than a diploma.”

Schonfeld explains that many students mistakenly believe that a university is the only option available to them. “While there are mstudents who want to pursue an academic career and look forward to many years of theoretical studies, this may not be the optimal choice for all students, particularly for those who prefer to acquire practical, hand-on skills as opposed to academic knowledge, and those who are keen to enter the corporate world as soon as possible. Neither of these goals would be met by a university degree, which takes at least three years to complete, making it quite expensive. Furthermore, there are only 23 universities in South Africa and, as such, many thousands of students will not be able to
secure a place. It is also the unfortunate reality for many university graduates, who have completed three or four years of study, that there is no demand in the market for the qualification that they have, becausethey have little experience and practical skills.”

Fortunately, a university is certainly not the only option. There are also Universities of Technology, which offers technological career directed educational programmes, and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, which provide high-quality education and training to equip students with the qualifications and skills needed to start out on a chosen career path. FET colleges, in particular, provide invaluable skills enabling students to meet the many challenges of the working world, with more than just a qualification on paper.

“There are 50 FET colleges with 264 campuses all over the country which offer a range of programmes that cater for most students’ needs and interests ranging from Engineering, Business Studies, International Trade, Logistics, Supply Chain Management and Transport to Art, Music and Food Services. During FET studies, the focus is not on academic theory, but rather on providing students with in-depth knowledge, practical experience and a specialist skills set that makes them immediately employable by companies looking for specific skills,” notes Schonfeld. “In addition, while university degrees involve three or four years of studies that provide a theoretical education, an FET course offers more practical studies focussed on skills, culminating in a diploma within two years, which is therefore also more cost- effective.”

So, the issue is not whether a degree is superior to a diploma or vice versa, but rather which one will better help you achieve your goals. “A university degree is not superior or inferior to a diploma, the choice between the two really depends on whether you prefer the theoretical, academic education provided by a degree, or the in-depth knowledge, practical experience and a specialist skills set provided by a diploma, which provides immediate access to specific career areas where employers are desperate for suitably skilled people. It is important to investigate all your options when it comes to choosing the right tertiary education facility and to select one that will help you achieve your goals,” concludes Schonfeld. “The next big decision is what to study – how to choose a study course that will create a solid and broad foundation for a career in a fast-changing, increasingly-global world, and that will offer you great scope for a variety of career paths and access to the best, well-paying positions. If you are making this important life decision, we invite you to visit our website to find an intelligent approach to choosing the right study course to help you achieve your goals.”

Leave a Reply