Higher education not solution to youth unemployment

I refer to the Daily Monitor Article by Michael Wanyama the ED Higher Education Financing Board titled “Loan scheme will increase access to higher education for needy students” published on Wednesday June 24th 2015. I very much want to appreciate the government’s efforts to extend the education to majority of Ugandan; however, I am deeply hurt by its focus on quantity than quality.
Whereas we appreciate all measures government employs to provide funding and sponsorship to Ugandan students to attain higher education, as you elaborately explain with Government merit, quota system and state sponsorship.

Students’ loan scheme might increase access to higher education for needy students but will not solve unemployment in the country. Majority of youth who graduate ultimately settle for less-than-ideal employment, such as jobs that are low-paying, temporary, or unsafe, or ones for which they are overqualified. Some enter the informal economy to make ends meet. Others stop looking for jobs altogether.

Students in a technical institution doing practicals. This is what we should be advocating for
Students in a technical institution doing practicals. This is what we should be advocating for

Conversely, have we also thought about the quality of graduates churned out by these institutions every year? And more so, where do they go after graduation? Research shows that majority of graduates in Uganda today lack employability and thus are rendered jobless on the streets.   Why can’t we advocate for more funding to youth in tertiary institutions such that more students are catered for as they would attain better skills than one who have gone to university in today’s Uganda.

I am making a case of an Engineer who is sponsored fully by government in Makerere University or any other public institution. The cost of producing this engineer is might be very expensive compared to a cost of producing these other technicians in the industry such as masons, carpenters, welders, plumbers’ electricians etc.

A successful engineer, he/she needs about 20 technicians. But do we have where there are they coming from?  In my simple view, there are certain types of skills that determine whether young people will be able to find work as well as contributing to their local and national economy, and live up to their individual developmental and earning potentials.

Graduates but do they add value to the Ugandan economy?
Graduates but do they add value to the Ugandan economy?

These skills such as technical and vocation skills, in areas like agriculture, computers, or carpentry, can be gained through work-placement programs or apprenticeships.  Ironically, these skills rely on the basic literacy and numeracy skills developed during primary school that permit people to get jobs that pay enough to meet daily needs, you can look at majority of our UPE primary schools in Uganda today.

According to Uwezo’s 2012 Annual Learning Assessment report, 90% of UPE pupils can’t read. Where are we headed? Can’t we revise the quality of Education we offer to our pupils in primary before we think about higher education?

Similarly, I also confidently think, technical and vocational skills heavily rely on transferable skills such as analysis, communication, problem solving, creativity, and leadership that can be transferred and adapted to different environments. Staying in school helps develop these skills, as do internships or work-based programs.

Such technical skills must be promoted.
Such technical skills must be promoted.

But what has the government done? In 2003, the Uganda government in its wisdom decided to merge tertiary institutions into a university of Kyambogo. The merger was Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo (ITEK), Uganda polytechnic-Kyambogo (UPK) and Uganda national institute for students with disabilities (UNISE). It has not once or twice been argued that up to now the institution has failed to take off to a University.

engrWell, I am made to think and believe that it would be a powerful institution if it remained to that status quo and provided the available skills for the job market in Uganda and even beyond.  Therefore opportunities to develop a specific set of skills that matches the needs of the job market are often limited in our Ugandan universities.

Even if young people finish primary school, they do not necessarily progress to secondary school or have the skills needed by employers.  I think it’s really high time that our leaders listened to the voices of young people and allow opportunities for dialogue.

Major (Retired) Jessica Rose Epel Alupo EDUCATION minister
Major (Retired) Jessica Rose Epel Alupo EDUCATION minister

The business of ganging youth against other youth will not solve the     problem of unemployment. Similarly, training youth as cadres is yet to produce its results that will shock the initiators.   Finally, once there is greater appreciation of the size and economic potential of young people and more comprehensive education-to-employment strategies, Uganda will be able to make the most of this opportunity for development.

Our Ugandan educational system is still failing to provide a large proportion of youth with the skills they need to secure a living. And without the ability to attain basic skills or the specific ones that match the demands of the labor market, many youth shall continue to be unable to find employment.

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