Expanding higher education is highly commendable, but where are the jobs?
Plans by the government to give 12 colleges charters to make them full universities is an indication of a higher education system revving itself up to cash in on unprecedented demand.
The last decade has seen university education expand exponentially from six public universities and 14 private ones in 2001, to 19 public universities and 22 private ones this year.
This is good news for the country in general and the economy in particular. For a country’s economic prospects are almost always underpinned by its human resources.
Skills imparted on people through investments in education are a form of capital that is used to contribute to economic production.
Countries around the world have crafted their education policies around the notion that education is an investment in human capital.
Indeed, the huge economic growth in East Asia over the last two decades has been credited to investment in education and human capital.
Countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have achieved unprecedented rates of economic growth while making huge investment in education.
And so by expanding opportunities for higher education through the opening of more public universities, the provision of study loans and the introduction of tax incentives to encourage a similar growth of private universities, the government is doing the sensible thing.
Throw investments into schools and learning institutions and the more skilled a populace you will have, the more economic growth will be generated. But sadly, that is where the good news ends and the bad begins.
For the question arises: Of what use are the thousands of graduates churned out of universities like confetti if there are no jobs for them?
A huge number of people who have invested many years of their lives in acquiring advanced formal educational qualifications find themselves unable to find jobs commensurate with their academic credentials.
Joblessness spawns deeply-rooted pent-up frustrations that only pave the way for broken marriages, unstable relationships and a rise in sophisticated crimes.
And, given the high cost of university education — which has shot up as the demand for degrees has risen — failing to get immediate returns in the form of a job can be devastating.
The expansion of higher education has also given rise to a ritualised qualification-seeking process, where people simply go to school to increase their chances of getting a job or earn a promotion, a situation which indelibly hurts the teaching-learning process because of an over emphasis on passing exams.
The tendency leads to over-qualification inflation, which Prof Ronald Dore, the British sociologist, famously called the “Diploma Disease”.
It is the reason many formal employees are rushing back to universities to acquire Master’s degrees, a qualification which is fast becoming a must-have in the job market.
As to whether or not current university graduates whether at Bachelors or post-graduate level, are leaving the institutions with relevant and adequate skills measuring up to the demands of the modern job market is debatable.
Still, universities are basically supposed to be factories and repositories of knowledge.
But to be such, they need to be fully equipped with modern libraries and laboratories, hitched on the latest information technology trends and driven by an adequate staffing capacity comprising vibrant and well-motivated lecturers and researchers and modern managers.
Can our universities, especially the newest kids on the block, be realistically said to have modern libraries that can hold a candle to any other in the world? What about laboratories and teachers?
The government is certainly doing the right thing by expanding higher education opportunities especially to cater for the thousands of Form Four leavers who fail to proceed to higher learning despite having qualified.
But it must aggressively begin to shake up the job market to give the new graduates a place to earn a decent living.
Mr Waihenya is the Chief Sub-Editor, Daily Nation (firstname.lastname@example.org).