Education is a lifelong experience. Experience is a lifelong education. Education plus experience equals expertise. Michael Bugeja

There’s an ongoing debate amongst scholars, employees and employers about what matters most Education or Experience?

This topic is stressful due to the different subjective opinions people hold.

In a country where tertiary education is not affordable for most people and an ever-increasing unemployment rate.

Do you think education or experience will secure your lifelong livelihood?

Education in South Africa  

The education landscape in Soth Africa is nowhere near ideal. Every other year, there are protests over university fees or complaints about the admin process of applying for basic education.

The country has great schools within all its provinces but getting into one of these highly recognized private/former model C schools is not an easy task. There are two struggles one can face when trying to get into these schools.

  1. Waiting list, there is an insane waiting list. There are cases where people place their unborn babies to ensure their children are guaranteed a spot. 
  2. Fees, the school fees are excessive, to put it lightly. 

The table below depicts some of South Africa’s most expensive schools:

The most expensive schools in South Africa in 2021- – BusinessTech.

So how does one prioritize education when they face such a battle?

Education is expensive 

Let’s say parents manage to do everything in their will to get their child into a great primary and high school and also manage to fund university education, whether out of their own pockets or get loans.

Unfortunately, being able to fund your child schooling career or securing a loan for it doesn’t reflect the majority of South Africans but the fortunate few.

According to the “Higher Education and Skills in South Africa” report released by Statistics South Africa. More than half (or 51%) of youth aged 18–24 claimed that they did not have the financial means to pay for their tuition.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme ( NFSAS) by the Department of Higher Education and Training is a financial assistance institution aiming to help disadvantaged undergraduate students with their tertiary education fees.

Yet not all deserving students get assistance from NFSAS, and the ones that do get it are always worried about the bill they are running up and have to pay back after obtaining their qualification.

Some students never pay back the NSFAS loan, which contributes to the disadvantage new applicants face.

Loans are not being paid back, resulting in the institution not having enough money to fund everyone who needs assistance and further their education to secure a brighter future.

At no level is ‘good’ education accessible and affordable in South Africa. Government schools have a reputation that they not as focused as private schools leaving many to flock to those schools to give their kids a competitive advantage.

Education is valuable 

There can never be a precise conclusion on measuring the actual value of education. In a country like South Africa, it is safe to assume that education is valuable and contributes to how and where society places you.  

For years the importance of education and how far it can get you far has made the theory ”the further you go with your studies the better it is for your future” popular.  

The general perception is that an undergrad helps get a job, a post-grad can get you slightly better pay, but masters will get you a senior position and great compensation. 

Furthermore, having a degree or two shows employers that you have succeeded in academia and are likely to do the job well.

University doesn’t only equip you with a degree, but you also learn life lessons and develop/sharpen soft skills. 

Soft skills are the skills that enable you to fit in at a workplace. They include your personality, attitude, flexibility, motivation, and manners. Soft skills are so important that” The balance careers states. 

Even on a global scale, education is regarded highly and helps you get into some spaces you wouldn’t be able to without it. 

Experience a dealbreaker? 

“Exeprience is required for this job” is not an uncommon response from employers even if you can prove that you spent the past couple of years in a higher education institution acquiring the necessary qualifications for the job.

It’s also not uncommon to volunteer or work while obtaining your qualification, so you are ‘well balanced’ and not get you’re not experienced response.

How important is experience

Let’s fast forward to 15 years post obtaining your qualification – how relevant is it now? What will show future employers that you are capable of doing the job and can prove it?

The straightforward answer to is experience important is YES; experience is important as well. It shows that you theoretically and practically can do the job. 

Just like varsity helps you acquire soft skills, so does experience.

Work experience gets you the soft skills faster than being in a classroom and realizing years later that some of the characteristics you have now are considered soft skills. 

Collabera lists and defines some of the soft skills employers look for as:

Interpersonal Skills

There’s a difference between working in a team setting and wanting to work with a team.

Communication Skills

Communicating involves more than just talking to coworkers.

Emotional Intelligence

Your social skills, self-management practices, and overall presence give hiring managers clues on your emotional intelligence (also known as EQ).

Project Management

Staying organized and planning, implementing, and assisting with projects effectively is a highly effective soft skill to maintain. 

Experience without a qualification 

We’ve established that experience is just as vital as a qualification since it essentially does the same thing as a qualification and gives you a competitive advantage.

But in the case, you’ve just got the experience and no qualification -what then?

Jumping straight into a working environment no matter the industry is helpful. It accelerates the real-world experience, and while others are learning things in the classroom, you get to learn and experience them.

We mentioned earlier that after 15 years from obtaining your qualification, experience seems to matter most because that is the track record that shows you know how to do the job.

Also, what experience without a qualification shows is that you are a fast learner and adapt easily (also considered important soft skills).


Networking in any industry is important and connects you with people that can introduce you to opportunities you have never been able to access.

Experience is what gets you the network connections. Being around people who have more experience and know-how the industry works is a huge benefit.

Networking helps you learn and access people as mentors because they have the mature experience/knowledge in the field that you would get after long years in the industry and now are fortunate enough to get it sooner.

It’s safe to conclude that both education and experience have an immense contribution to one’s working career.

Trying to figure out which is important to employers is quite a task – plus employers in various backgrounds have their specifications and what they value more between the two.

If you can acquire both, you’re fortunate, but if you’re in a position of either or, do your utmost to excel in the one which will show your character and abilities.

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