Too many graduates but where are the jobs?

Sunday October 12 2014

Kenyatta University graduands during the 35th graduation ceremony on December 20, 2013. FILE PHOTO | JENNIFER MUIRURI

Kenyatta University graduands during the 35th graduation ceremony on December 20, 2013. Top scholars from East African have called for a review of university education to prioritise research and incorporate training in entrepreneurship. FILE PHOTO | JENNIFER MUIRURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BENJAMIN MUINDI
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It takes a university graduate an average of five years to secure a job in Kenya today, a new study reveals.

The reality is worse, the study points, as many of those in employment are not engaged in the jobs for which they are qualified. “This significantly dims the prospects of a university trained individual in Kenya,” it adds.

About 50, 000 graduates are churned out of public and private universities in Kenya every year piling onto the number of unemployed youth in the country estimated at 2.3 million, according to the ministry of Education.

These graduates, especially those from less fortunate backgrounds, are now forced to engage in menial jobs to survive.

“Unemployment is a ‘privilege’ of the wealthy, with their greater financial security enabling them wait for an ideal job,” the survey launched on Thursday notes.

Learning experiences outside the university – particularly in the family and previous schooling – greatly influence the ability of a university graduate to perform effectively in the job market, says the study titled Universities, Employability and Inclusive Development. “A graduate’s social network is also a key factor in securing a job.”

The survey shows experiences outside the classroom can also be pivotal in enhancing employability through experiential learning in the community – service learning, voluntary, among others, – as well as within the campus, through student societies and other extra-curricular activities should be facilitated.

Availability of jobs and possible discrimination are other factors determining graduates employability in the country, even though the report is not clear the form of discrimination it is referring to.

Employers are also increasingly after global perspectives and understanding of diversity, qualities that can be developed through the various forms of engagement on campus and outside, it says.

And while Kenyan university education has been expanding significantly, the survey says quality is greatly under threat.

“Just as the introduction of free primary education led to strains on infrastructure and drops in standards, a rapid expansion of higher education presents similar dangers. This is a potential time bomb,” the report notes.

The Economic Survey 2014 shows enrolment in universities (both public and private) rose to 324, 560 students up from 240, 551 students the previous year, with the number of universities in Kenya standing at 67.

This crowding of lecture halls in has led to a situation where on average; there are as many as 64 students for every lecturer, the report shows.
It proposes that the institutions should focus on decreasing the student-lecturer ratio and improving infrastructure.

“In many cases, the lecturers lack adequate qualifications and preparations and transmission-based pedagogy and rote learning are commonplace. Universities have also suffered a severe lack of physical resources, including buildings, laboratories and libraries.”

With a growing young population and the value attached to university education for better prospects in life, the research says adequate measures need to be put in place urgently to prevent the crisis from worsening.

YOUTH BULGE

“The ‘youth bulge’ and increasing value attached to university-level education, has meant even these high levels of expansion have not been enough,” the study funded by the British Council and launched at Kenyatta University on Thursday shows.

The Institute of Education, University of London, Kenyatta University, University of Education, Winneba (Ghana), University of the Free State (South Africa) and the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) co-authored the report.

Prof Daniel Sifuna and Prof Ibrahim Oanda of Kenyatta University’s School of Education were the lead researchers from Kenya, in the study that focused on four African countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana as well.

Although the four countries faced different socio-economic and political landscapes, the study found out that they were faced with similar challenges of “how to ensure universities provided the highest quality of preparation for young people.”

“Despite higher enrolments, there are serious concerns about the ability of Africa’s universities to produce the kind of graduates who can drive the region forward,” the survey states.

And while there has been increasing concern about graduate unemployment and the ‘skills gap’ – between the skills graduates have and those needed in the job market – the report, in fact, found a surprisingly weak evidence to back up this long-held belief.

Personal qualities

The study found that employers were generally satisfied with the disciplinary knowledge of students although there were significant gaps in personal qualities as reliability, transferable skills, teamwork and problem solving as well as challenges in using modern technology.

A similar study by the school of Education in Moi University last year also noted that employers were increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of soft skills as teamwork and poor personal attributes among university graduate.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aspires to have a skills inventory for Kenya’s human resources meant to indicate the distribution of well-trained Kenyans, especially for Kenyans possessing mid-level college and university training.

“Such a database is an indispensable tool for planning the country’s future training programmes. It will identify the existing gap in human resource requirements in all the sectors, thus guide priorities in where to train,” the blueprint says.

The inventory is critical, it adds, as it will ensure training in both mid-level colleges and universities is relevant while keeping a regular track of the developing human resources in country.

Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi underpinned the importance of work placements for graduates while Global director of Education and Society at the British Council Dr Jo Beall said there was need for sound teaching and learning to increase employability.

In the face of a weak economic growth, there has been a fervent call for university graduates to become entrepreneurs rather than seek to be employed.