You never know what a day will bring. Sometimes before you fall asleep you look back at what you’ve done and learnt that day and realize that you’ve done and learnt nothing of note; days like that are so depressing to me. However, every once in awhile, you look back and smile in the knowledge that you’ve learnt something that makes you really think and challenge the perceptions you had. I had one of those days Friday night at a friend’s farewell party.
I found myself talking to someone who did a study on the university students and the challenges that Rwanda faces in higher education. It’s an open secret that higher education as we know it will have to undergo serious reform. We have thousands of high school students graduating every year and each and every single one of them expects to go to university and earn a degree. On the governments bill. However, the crux of the matter is that the government simply cannot keep paying the bills for higher education. Cutbacks in education spending are happening all over the world and Rwanda, unfortunately, is no different.
First SFAR, the higher education financing authority, has to find a way to make graduates pay their student loans. The only way that SFAR will continue to finance Rwandan students is if they can get back some of the monies they’ve given to people like me. That’s just a first step. SFAR, by itself, cannot finance everyone’s dream of a university degree. Eventually, people will have to find a way to finance their own education. That sounds pretty cut and dry doesn’t it? If you want a university degree, you find a way to pay for it, right? Wrong.
The lady that I talked to told me that Rwandan students simply refuse to think about paying their way through university. In developed countries, the average waiter and waitress that serves you a drink at the bar is university student. The so-called menial jobs, which pay minimum wages, are often filled by brilliant college students. Why? Because they simply need the money. With university tuition fees in the regions of the hundreds of thousands of dollars, they need to do whatever they can. My new found friend worked two minimum-wage jobs concurrently to pay her way.
This financial pinch is found in Rwanda as well. Obviously. Back when I was at the National University of Rwanda, we had a thing called ‘macqui’. This was when two people shared a single bed. Now, I must tell you, the beds in Butare are strictly made for a single person, a thin person at that. The saddest thing I ever saw was two grown men, pot bellies and all, sharing a tiny bed. They did so because the government stipend of twenty-five thousand francs was simply not enough to cater for all their needs. They couldn’t afford the luxury of their own beds. I refused to be a part of the whole macqui culture. I got a gig doing some writing. And that is how I could afford to rent a small pad.
Obviously people haven’t caught on the whole ‘work your way through school’ thing. I was shocked when my party companion told me that studies showed that university students wouldn’t even entertain the idea of doing menial jobs to sustain their university dream. It didn’t matter that they simply had no choice. They felt that it was ‘beneath’ them to be seen serving drinks in a restaurant.
This false sense of ‘superiority’ will be the death of them. Dear student, you aren’t too good to work- that’s simply a pipe dream. The real world demands that you do. Your very future will depend on how well you grasp this.