The Cost of Education

When I was little, I had little or no grasp of the true cost of things – my worldly possessions consisted of sweets and chocolates; I was not a materialistic brat.  I always marvelled at how much my parents paid to get me through school.  I remembered thinking that paying anything over R100 for a textbook was a “rip-off”.  Of course, that was before I enrolled at a tertiary institution.  Nothing in my formative years would have prepared me for the expenses that would accumulate during my 4 years at varsity.

Tuition aside, it was the price of textbooks that really flabbergasted me.  If I bought everything brand new, I would have had to fork out over R5000 for textbooks and stationery…and that would have only covered for the first semester.

So, acting in typical student fashion, I sought out the Jewish side of me and mitigated as much of the expenses as possible, but the balance was still greatly overwhelming.  The bulk of it went to the purchase of the SAICA handbooks and legislation which totalled over R1000.  (There are no second hand markets for the SAICA books because the money leeching publishers update them every quarter, forcing us to buy new versions every year.)

A lot of my textbooks were written by my own lectures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they deliberately prescribed as many sources of information as possible just so they could get more royalties out of it.  My tax course (for example) had 3 prescribed books, one of which was basically a compilation of old test and exam questions taken from past board exams, etc.  That one had a price tag of R420.  Perhaps I should write them a letter expressing my disgust at having to pay so much for recycled intellectual property.

To add fuel to the fire, one of my BA students happily told me she had no prescribed textbooks for this year – only photocopied readings.  So, is this purely a “Commerce” phenomenon?  Why are there no competition commissions to regulate the prices?  Not to mention the exuberant prices are forcing money-strapped students to seek out illegal avenues for their educational needs, as a couple of my friends have tended to photocopy entire textbooks in order to save money.

At any rate, here are a few ways in which one can spend less and save more (on textbooks):

1.  Buy second hand books

2.  Sell old textbooks

3.  Avoid purchasing “redundant” textbooks.  For certain courses, the lecture slides are more useful than the textbook (at UCT at least – not sure how other universities operate.)  It is entirely possible to do well in a course and not have opened the textbook once.  That said, some books are necessary, so it would help to speak to those who have done the course to see whether the textbooks are concomitant with passing the course.

4.  Buy online (in bulk) – Get some friends together and buy the books in bulk. The more you buy, the bigger the drop in price.

You will be surprised at how much you can save!


  1. I paid precisely R0 for textbooks in undergrad and postgrad :D Any legislation we studied was accessed from and the rest was photocopies.

    Put simply, commerce students are regularly fleeced because lecturers know you lot will do anything to get your degree, even fork out thousands for a textbook that’s worth only a hundred or so. A BA student would either not care about a text book (ie me and the political philosophy bullshit book my lecturer prescribed) or simply cannot afford it. If you’re incurring shitloads of student loans to afford a degree you perceive will earn you lots of money, and it probably will, you’ll buy the damned things. Whether or not that will make you happy… well, that’s something else entirely ;)


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