Studying part-time is no easy feat, especially when you’re juggling daily adult responsibilities. Still, many take on the challenge every year, whether it’s going back to high school to earn that all-important matric – or reading for their fifth postgraduate degree.
‘I matriculated at 61’
Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, 62, was already a world-renowned musician when he went back to school – 45 years after he’d last been in a classroom. ‘My music career started when I was in high school and as it picked up, school fell away,’ he says. ‘It was always in the back of mind that I hadn’t finished school and I wanted to do it for myself.
‘Education isn’t only for material gain and opportunities for future employment. Knowledge is more powerful than material gain. You can have riches but not be knowledgeable.’
Hotstix chose Thaba-Jabula Secondary School in Soweto because it is walking distance from his home. ‘I wanted to get the feel of the environment black kids are subjected to on a daily basis,’ he says.
A lot had changed since he was last in the classroom. ‘Education has evolved and some experiences were disturbing for me, such as cellphones. Pupils would leave class to take calls; I found it unacceptable. In my time, something like that would have never happened. I chose to maintain the old decorum that I was raised with and I found it worked out well for me.’
Making school a priority with a full schedule was difficult, but matriculating at 61 is one of his proudest accomplishments. ‘Education is worth everything,’ he says.
Hotstix is committed to studying even further. ‘I have registered with Unisa and am now an anthropology student! It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve come to realise that you can never say you know something until you’ve lived it – and now I am experiencing university for the first time.’
‘I juggled full-time work with studying and raising kids’
Michelle Alexander, 41, was a full-time working mother when she decided to study for a degree in accounting. ‘I had many years’ experience as an accountant and found that if I wanted to move into a more strategic role, I would have to become more competitive in the workplace by obtaining a formal accounting qualification,’ she says.
Michelle enrolled for a correspondence bachelor of accounting science degree through Unisa, since she couldn’t afford to leave her job while studying. She says the seven-year journey to completing her degree wasn’t easy.
‘Halfway through my studies, I fell pregnant with my second child and was almost full-term when I had to write two major exams. My biggest challenge was when my husband relocated to Pretoria halfway through my studies, when our son was only a year old. For a while, I was work-studying while raising two children on my own. My marriage took strain because it was difficult to stay focused on my goals while managing family time,’ she says.
To cope, she hired a full-time domestic worker, relied on friends and family to help out when necessary and started jogging in the mornings as a form of stress relief. Michelle adds that her faith helped her persevere even when times were really tough.
‘You need to be really disciplined to do this,’ she says. ‘When things don’t go as planned, you need to see it as a learning curve, as a nudge to improve and do better the next time. Also, the people closest
to you need to share your goal.’ Although she completed her degree in 2011, she’d like to complete her CIMA qualification as the marketplace has become even more competitive.
‘In order for me to get a suitable role with a company of my choice, I need to become stronger in terms of credentials.’
‘My studies changed my career path’
Khensani Mashaba, 30, was working as a fashion intern at a magazine when she realised she was more interested in the business side of publishing.
‘I wanted to play a meaningful role in that sense and knew I needed further formal education. I enrolled with IMM Graduate School of Marketing and attended evening classes after long working days. And it’s been hectic! Working in a deadline-driven industry has made juggling assignments, deadlines and exams really challenging.’
After taking a break from her studies when she was promoted, she returned once she felt comfortable in her new role. In a space of four-and-a-half years, Khensani’s career path has changed completely. ‘I’ve gone from being an intern to being a fashion editor and then
PR and marketing manager for Ndalo Media. I don’t think this would’ve been possible had I not studied.’
Khensani says that if you have work experience coupled with a formal qualification, you are bound to go far. ‘Just make sure you choose the right course and ask people who are in more senior positions in your chosen industry for course and institution references.’
She adds that she’d like to complete her honours next year. ‘My ultimate goal is to get an MBA because I’ve realised the value of education and the doors it opens.’
‘I’m an academic at heart’
With five postgraduate degrees under his belt, Dr McEdward Murimbika, 42, is the poster child for tertiary education.
‘I completed my junior degrees (BA and BA honours) back in 1994 and 1995 respectively,’ he says.
‘I then worked for a year before enrolling for a Master’s in philosophy in Norway in order to improve my qualifications. While at the University of Bergen in Norway, I took more time out to do a specialised postgraduate diploma in African archaeology at the University of Brussels in Belgium in 1998. I completed both my Master’s and my diploma the following year and returned to South Africa to take up a research position at the University of Witwatersrand. I immediately realised I would have better prospects in the academic world if I had an even higher degree,’ he says.
McEdward went on to complete a doctorate in archaeology at Wits and a Master’s of management in entrepreneurship and new venture creation at Wits Business School. It’s a lot to do, especially for a man who has become a father.
‘The biggest challenge was time,’ he says. ‘Running a suite of business ventures was already difficult to balance with family responsibilities. Adding studying on a full-time basis just added pressure to levels I had not experienced before. My wife is also a professional with an equally demanding job. Between us, we had to ensure our kids didn’t suffer. In the end, I gave up most of my social life, dropped out of a social soccer club, could only gym once in a blue moon and couldn’t host or attend family and friends’ functions. In short, my social life just withered and died.’
Despite the sacrifices, McEdward says he advises everyone to study because ‘each postgraduate degree I have done has changed the course of my life’.
‘I’m studying for enjoyment’
Josie*, 57, has a passion for education. She’s been studying since she was 17 and shows no signs of slowing down.
‘I worked in the corporate sector and enrolled in studies of various kinds at Wits Business School after having my kids. Then I got really interested in psychology and politics, so I studied that and completed my honours when I was 42.’
Josie is currently busy with her Master’s in applied psychology, which she is doing via correspondence through the University of Liverpool. ‘The subject interests me, and in the last third of my life. I want to make a positive difference to the lives of women and children. My MSc is going to help me do that,’ she says.
Josie says her business studies helped her become one of the first senior women in the corporate world. ‘Some of the perks of studying have included being taken far more seriously in the corporate world with each successive qualification. When I worked in that environment, it was virtually entirely male at mid and senior levels.’
Josie managed to balance a career that involved a lot of travel, her studies and her family. ‘My family accused me of being the bossiest person in the world – but if I had not been well organised, I would not have had a life. There was quite literally not a free nanosecond. There were times when I was totally exhausted and had to take time out.’
Although these days Josie is studying for personal gain rather than career enhancement, she is just as committed. ‘The online degree is the same course content and standard as an on-campus degree. I travel a lot in my current NGO job, so studying by correspondence makes perfect sense.’ Josie recommends studying to everyone. ‘You will make a plan, and you can do it if you are determined. But don’t underestimate how much time it will take and what the level of commitment is.’
* Not her real name
Want to study part-time?
Marieke Oberholzer, a registered industrial psychologist at Nova Human Capital in Pretoria, says: ‘You have to consider the impact of it on your daily life – it’s a huge commitment.
Self-motivation is going to play an important part and you’ll probably have to make financial and social sacrifices, such as not being able to go on holiday or attend family events.
Remember, you are never too old to learn new things or to make your situation better through studies.
Create goals when you set out to study: perhaps it’s a promotion, a pay increase or a new job. This allows you to have something to focus on, which will serve as a reward after all your hard work.’
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