University degree must be more than just a means to clinch a job

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Kisii University Masters Degree graduands toss their hats to the air during their graduation ceremony on December 14, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

What exactly is the value of a university degree? Getting a job? Getting requisite skills for a profession? Acquiring knowledge? A combination of these?

It is now obvious to many students that a university degree is no longer a guarantee the years spent battering keyboards to churn out papers will bear fruit as was the case 25 years ago. In the 80s and early 90s the job market though wasn’t limitless; it nevertheless absorbed a majority of graduates. How times change.

The bitter truth now is that in many of our African countries, employment opportunities are extremely limited. Aware of this reality, hundreds of students are opting for TVETs and other hard skills providers to prepare themselves for self-employment at best and raising their competitive job-seeking advantage.  University education remains critical in forming a nation that reasons well, plans sustainably, learns from its history of what works and concerns itself with laying even a stronger academic foundation for its grandchildren.

Every child should receive a university degree where possible. That remains the ideal goal for a sensitive government. To ensure students don’t lose the value of acquiring knowledge as a major goal in itself, and to combine this goal with productive learning towards a fulfilling future, it is imperative to take the following actions.

First, governments should focus on incentives for employers to create more job opportunities. It is not enough that students get internships, they should transition to securing jobs. Particularly supporting local organisations with capacity to draw in partners from the international community will caution employers who struggle to retain staff. Besides, if given tax exemptions such organisations are likely to generate more tax revenue for the government in addition to creating more jobs for desperate youth.

Second, providing soft loans for innovative young people is commendable. However, stats from the utilisation of funds meant for youth innovation and entrepreneurship and academic research findings show that the success rate of youth competitive innovations is still very low.

Youth funds will bear fruit when there is an elaborate plan to identify talent, provide necessary skills and walk the students through several experimental projects before they can become competitive.     

Third, human beings retreat to survival mode when they feel threats around them. Students with job opportunities – in the right shareholder companies – will turn violent to their colleagues who might be eyeing the same opportunities.

Resource-based conflicts are deadly in killing job opportunities for everyone because those with the capacity to multiply the cake or even bake more cakes retreat to subjecting others to dependency.

Graduating students from poor families have to live with the most unfortunate reality that to access a job opportunity their potential lies in their God-given creativity. Pushed to the wall, they too can turn violent because living in a caste system where the poor cheer the high caste to survive dehumanises them. They do run out of steam.

To ensure students fortunate or unfortunate access to resources government jobs should target the best of every young person. As it is, neither adults nor young people are blind to the fact that skewedness in job opportunities favours students from certain parts of the country.

Lastly, there are many complex and multifaceted factors that contribute creation of job opportunities. It takes government goodwill to focus on creating an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship for jobless graduates to transform themselves into job creators.

Dolling funds is far from providing a job creation solution to the thousands of our jobless young people. We have to go beyond the feel-good degree awarding ceremonies and start worrying about inscribing a lifelong value to a university degree.

The degree award should symbolise depth in knowledge, capacity in skills, integrity in discharging duties, humility in honouring obligations and above all, high regard for citizens as fellow human beings.

Dr Mokua is executive director of Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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