Antoinette Reitz, Chief Operations Officer, CTU Training Solutions.

Antoinette Reitz, Chief Operations Officer, CTU Training Solutions.

Antoinette Reitz, Chief Operations Officer at CTU Training Solutions, says any investment in an individual's education is money well spent. However, it's important to consider both the journey and the outcome before spending your hard-earned cash.

"If you regard money spent on improving your qualifications as an investment, then you need to do as much research beforehand as you would if you were investing in the stock market," says Reitz. What she says makes good business sense. But, sometimes finding that money can prove challenging. The average person doesn't have funds set aside to pay for further studies, but fortunately, there are several options when it comes to getting that qualification. We look at the costs and some of the alternative routes you could follow to achieve a qualification without breaking the bank.

A full-time degree at a university could cost in the region of R200 000 per year, depending on the degree and where you study, while a year spent doing an online course or distance learning could set you back R60 000. That's a significant difference and certainly something to be considered, especially in today's tough economic climate, when getting a qualification is mandatory, but finding a job is a matter of survival.

Bank loan

All of the leading banks offer study loans, which allow you to borrow funds to pay for your studies and even support yourself while you are studying. This money can be used to cover tuition fees, accommodation, books and anything else that you might need for your studies, such as a laptop or tablet. The benefit of this type of loan is that you only start paying it back once you've completed your qualification. It's important to compare interest rates offered by the different banks to ensure you get a competitive rate.

Be aware that you need to apply for a student loan on an annual basis, and the application will be subject to a credit and affordability assessment, which will determine how much you qualify for. It's strongly recommended that you only borrow the amount of money required per academic year.

While repayment of the loan only starts properly once your studies have been completed, you may be required to pay the interest, fees and charges attracted by the loan while still studying.

The downside of taking out a bank loan can include high interest rates as well as monthly repayments that can cut into an often-low first salary package.

Online courses

As per the numbers quoted earlier in this article, this is a viable option for people who are employed and need to study in their free time, as well as those who simply can't afford university fees. Distance learning and short online courses enable you to improve your skills and qualifications in a way that's affordable and while holding down a full-time job. Do your research and find a course that's relevant and offers a national, if not international, qualification. There's more information below on how to choose a creditable online training provider.

Scholarships and bursaries

Most universities offer bursaries to qualified scholars, whether the requirement be academic or sports-oriented, while large corporates also offer bursaries on the condition that the candidate work for them for a predefined period once they've qualified.

Workplace opportunities

Some vendors offer software assurance training vouchers to organisations that purchase their software, and your company could be one of them. This means employees could benefit from free training from a leading software vendor like Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle or Red Hat.

Some companies also have training budgets for courses or skills that empower their employees and increase their value to the business. Businesses whose annual turnover is higher than R500 000 and who are hoping to improve their broad-based black economic empowerment scorecard have to invest a minimum of 1% of their annual turnover in upskilling their staff. Make sure you are vocal about your training needs and ensure you motivate your training needs to your employer so that you are considered when the training plan is set. This can lead to recognition and possible career progression.

General tips

1. Plan your studies in advance; the earlier you start, the lower the monthly payment, should you opt in for the payment options available from your training provider.
2. Look for a training provider that offers flexible training so you don't have to cut into productivity time or swallow up all your leave days.
3. When selecting an education provider, look for one that is accredited and offers certification. Certification is the number one method in South Africa to validate your skills, whether in IT, business or design industries.
4. If you can avoid applying for a student loan, do it. The interest rates are high and you'll find that paying off the loan could become cumbersome and delay your gratification for completing your studies.
5. If you do have to apply for a loan, it's not a bad thing... just remember to manage your funds closely and choose a bank you can trust. CTU's students have applied for student loans from leading banks like Absa, FNB and Capitec (here are some quick links to their site where you can find out more).
6. There is quite a bit of free online supplementary content that could also assist you in improving your skills; ones like ctuopenedx.com are quite popular and offer hands-on learning from an online platform.