Are Universities the source of the unemployment problem?

Many of us have memories of how we were treated as special by our parents, aunts, relatives and many others as kids. Complements were generously dished instinctively by so many people that it was very easy to forget what they mean.
However, there was one that one couldn’t forget to acknowledge “this boy is bright, he is university material”. At a time when only a few people made it to the university, this was something to put some spring in your walk for quite a long while. It was a good sign that your future looks bright and that you have the potential to feed your village full of the poorest.
These days, the once life-changing statement hardly makes much sense. To start with, one doesn’t have to be any bright to attend university or even become an academic giant. The drama starts right after the results for the Kenya secondary school final national exams are announced. The candidates that shared a class and the same national exams are fast categorized into how much money they have. This is a tag that will determine whether they ever join university or take any of the programs.
Woo unto you if your parents are broke; your education could as well be over if you did not score a B+ and above. Many of those in this category form the majority of casual laborers, hopeless village activists (you know CBOs) and slum residents. The most you can do is keep reminding people that you went to school and that you actually have some level of command for the queen’s language. This you can only show in your extremely limiting position as watchman or cart pusher. Even if you improve a little in life, you still have that retired cart pusher look about you, more like a bad tattoo on the forehead.
If you barely score a B+ and therefore marginally qualify for JAB selection, you will still end-up as a teacher. Many join this noble profession since its less risky, you will find a job – and yes that is something in Kenya. The downside is that you are probably going to spend your life hating your job while earning barely enough to support you rather innumerable poor relatives.
The other side of the group needs to score only a C+. That is manageable by even those politicians who realizing that their literacy is becoming all too costly, enroll for the exams. I mean the bar is way miserably too low here. Yet these sons and daughters of the fairly rich have better choices for careers. They end up being trained as lawyers, doctors and nurses. Even though a good number of them spend several more years at the learning institutions than they should, they actually graduate and pick up jobs in their respective professions.
This means that sons of peasants have a very slim chance of going beyond TSC or some security job with stupid uniforms. Only a very small percentage of this group can take up the lucrative jobs or careers despite the fact that they might be very much better off upstairs than their richer counterparts.
This has been working well for universities, their revenues are better than ever. A good number of them now have far much better balance sheets than when the “boom” guys roamed the whole place.
Speaking of balance sheets, these university graduates have not lately been earning much and unemployment rates continue to grow. There can be many explanations including the official one that the economy is not producing as many jobs as the universities are churning out job seekers. Or perhaps they are just too many but that is simplistic. We need more of them for the economy, don’t we?
Maybe is a good time that we thought critically how we can solve the problem of too many unemployed graduates. A good place to start from is the very good possibility that universities can be central to helping the economy create jobs rather than be the one biggest source of all the problems. I’m thinking the health of the balance sheets of universities is overrated, and that their commercialization is the one single source of unemployment in Kenya. They should tailor their programs to the needs of the economy, abolish parallel or any other similar programs and treat everyone equally, based on the one single criteria any university must use, their academic merit.


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