By Sam van Heerden, Masters in Philosophy student
The prospect of pursuing university studies while working full-time can be daunting. But this has not stopped Rhodes University support staff from taking on the challenge over the years. In a world that is forever changing, committing to personal and professional growth, as these staff members have, is essential.
“I decided to further my studies, as I enjoy being a life-long student, ensuring that my mind is always challenged, and enhancing my creativity to keep broadening my knowledge,” explained Tharusha Naidoo-Maistry, who is currently the Manager of Secretariat and Governance at the Registrar’s Division.
Naidoo-Maistry graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), equipping herself with skills that she can employ in her current workspace. “It makes me better at my job as it has extensively developed my strategic and leadership skills. The MBA has also refined my analytical thinking,” she added.
Also graduating with an MBA is Manager of Marketing and Communications, Veliswa Mhlope, who found that the degree improved her work. “After and even during my studies, I was able to start thinking more strategically about my day-to-day job,” she explained, “I also became more confident not only as a manager but as a leader.”
It is no coincidence that postgraduate degrees offered by the business school are a popular choice for support staff who are looking to further their studies. “Whilst a university cannot be run like a business in the sense that it is a public university and a public good, we can still apply [business] principles in the way that certain things are conducted,” explained the Director of the Business School, Professor Owen Skae.
In addition to the MBA, the shorter Postgraduate Diploma in Business Analysis is also popular among staff. This year, Human Relations Officer for the Humanities Faculty, Shannon Thurston, obtained this diploma.
Professor Skae said that through studying a business degree, colleagues who are in positions that require project management can both further their careers and better understand how business principles can be applied in their work context – one that is often shifting as different demands are placed on the university over time, from student demands to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the move to remote learning.
The pandemic has demonstrated just how fast things can change and how important it is to be adaptable and open to learning. “We operate in a world of paradox and complexity, and this is where the benefit of a commitment to life-long learning becomes indispensable,” explained Professor Skae.
The MBA, in particular, focuses on leadership for sustainability, which feeds into the idea of commitment to occupational growth. “As we find that we are increasingly dealing with things like climate change and social inequality, we have to remain [adaptable], sustainable, and relevant to the future,” said Professor Skae.
Such dedication to personal and professional improvement is not without cost. The graduates suggested that studying while working is a delicate balancing act. “My first year of studying was challenging because I had to learn to balance family responsibilities, a demanding work schedule, and studies,” explained Mhlope.
The part-time courses within the business school are designed to allow students to focus on both their studies and their work. The part-time MBA is divided into teaching blocks over the first two years, so that students can take a few weeks out to focus on their studies and then return to work where they can apply the skills they have learnt.
“We always say to students: it is important when you start this journey of postgraduate studies that you need to clarify the expectations with your employer, with your line manager, family and friends,” said Professor Skae, who adds that Rhodes University staff are also offered a discount towards their studies.
Although challenging, the graduates insist it is worth it. “I feel that lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to personal and professional development,” said Mhlope, “Studying when one is older and has responsibilities can be daunting. However, it is a rather personal and rewarding journey.”
When asked what advice they would give to staff who are thinking about furthering their studies, both Naidoo-Maistry and Mhlope insist that having a community to support you is indispensable. “They will be the first ones to pick you up when you feel like giving up,” explained Naidoo-Maistry, “Short-term pain, long-term gain. Enjoy the journey: it is rigorous, but at the end it is worth it.”