Open Column: Locked up in the ivory tower

By Deva Lee

Deva Lee

With tuition fees that reach up to R30 000 a year, Rhodes students have got to have the capital. For those who don’t, limited options are available. The R100-R200 a week that most part-time jobs in Grahamstown have to offer just doesn’t touch sides. Tutoring will help you out with about R5000 a year, but those opportunities only open up at third year level. This leaves the average middle-class student with a fat student loan that gains about 10% interest each month. Scholarships seem to only be available to students who are achieving multiple distinctions and come from highly disadvantaged backgrounds. Not many make the mark. After looking at ways in which I could cut costs, it occurred to me that I didn’t agree with some of the things that the university was billing me for. The R2.5 million surplus in hand-out funds that made headlines last year have not made any changes to the average student’s account. We are still getting charged the same amount of money for hand-outs, and never refunded if all the money isn’t used. Some departments charge fees for ‘consumables’, and yet students are not made aware of what it entitles them to. Others make the purchase of new textbooks at the beginning of each year compulsory, when the possibility of buying these books second hand at a cheaper price is available. A compulsory fee is also imposed upon Oppidan students, which is said to pay for certain services throughout the year. I have never needed or used any of these services. Each time, I was told to sign on the dotted line without being given a choice.
A friend recently told me that, after doing a BA, all you leave university with is thoughts. I nearly choked. I couldn’t convince myself I had just spent over R100 000 on thoughts; I should have just taken the afternoon off. I did tend to agree with her when she said that these thoughts and skills were invaluable to both her career and her perspectives on economic, political and social concerns. I am of the opinion that education is fundamental to the empowerment of any individual. 
In this light, I find it difficult to understand why all measures to cut student costs are not taken at Rhodes. With former VC Dr Woods’ R1,6 million golden handshake and university staff strikes still fresh in our minds, students would be right to question whether funds at Rhodes University are always being used appropriately.

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