Public universities remain the best pool for graduate recruitment because of their perceived reputation, long history of training and performance of past students in the job market, a new study shows.
However, a few elite private universities have proved attractive, says the study on graduate employability commissioned by the British Council in four African countries.
Even so, most graduates do not want to get into formal employment, yet the institutions never prepare them for self-employment.
This is a mismatch between training and expectations.
It lists seven public universities out of the top 10 where employers prefer to recruit.
Leading the pack is the University of Nairobi, followed by Kenyatta and Moi.
The most preferred private university is Strathmore, which is ranked fourth followed by KCA.
At position seven, Catholic University completes the list of private universities among the 10 most preferred.
The other preferred public universities are Maseno (6), Jomo Kenyatta (8), Egerton (9) and Masinde Muliro (10).
Kenya has 33 public and 37 private universities.
Employers also preferred students from business and social sciences compared to those from the natural sciences. The latter aren’t given practical skills in their courses.
However, the study cautions against the massive expansion of universities and duplication of courses that has led to mass production of graduates who were not able to get jobs.
For example, most universities offered education degrees yet the government, the main employer, only employs a few teachers every year.
The consequence is that many education graduates remained unemployed for as long as 10 years.
Besides knowledge, the study shows that employers look for graduates with positive attitude, good communication and presentation skills and creative thinking.
The study established that employers were concerned about low level of ethics and lack of confidence.
It means universities were deficient in inculcating social skills, yet those are critical at the work place and in life.
Graduates were also faulted for poor communicating skills and critical thinking.
“The low level of ethical awareness points to an aspect of graduate employability in Kenya, which may become a big issue as university education expands,” says the report.
But it is acknowledged that declining value system is not a problem peculiar to universities; it reflects the general level of decadence in a society so engrossed with shameless material acquisition; where corruption, greed, financial improprieties and plunder of public resources is the order of the day.
The study was conducted for three years, from March 2013 to February 2016, in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South and the findings will be released next week.
In Kenya, the study was conducted by veteran educationist, Prof Daniel Sifuna, and Dr Ibrahim Oanda.
They interviewed employers, university managers and students and also reviewed reports and studies by the government and experts.
The study indicates that 65 per cent of graduates are keen to set up their own businesses or offering professional services, instead of seeking jobs.
Part of the reason is the stark realisation that jobs are shrinking and salaries are below their expectations.
They are also worried about the strict entry qualifications to the job market and worse, perceptions about bribery, nepotism and patronage.
AWAY FROM NORM
On their own, the study notes, students had resorted to complementing their degrees with other courses like information technology or professional accountancy to give them an advantage in pursuit of productive work.
Universities reject that their graduates were unemployable, insisting the problem was a shrinking economy unable to generate jobs.
Contrary to the perception that the universities were laid back and failed to respond to market changes, the university managers argued that they had transformed their courses that prepared their graduates for the job market.
The Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre at Kenyatta University under former Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda is cited as one which promotes innovative culture and providing commercially viable ideas.
The report recommends a review of university training including revising courses as well as teaching methods.
Strathmore University’s incubation hub has been cited as inculcating entrepreneurial skills and exposed them to potential employers.
But some courses touted as equipping graduates with employability skills were not well-thought out.
For example, some universities insisted that students acquire IT skills but those on their own were not levers for jobs; they are mere tools anyone requires in the market.