At least half of graduates produced by East African universities lack employability skills, technical mastery and basic work-related capabilities, a new survey shows.
According to the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), a body created to regulate higher education in the region, the situation simply confirms the concerns among employers that most graduates are not fully prepared for the job market. The situation, the report which polled employers says, denies all the five countries making up the region the skills needed to drive growth.
The study shows that Uganda has the worst record, with at least 63 per cent of graduates found to lack job market skills followed closely by Tanzania where 61 per cent of graduates are ill-prepared.
In Burundi and Rwanda, 55 per cent and 52 per cent of graduates respectively are perceived to be incompetent while in Kenya, 51 per cent of graduates are believed to be unfit for jobs.
The implication is that despite the improvement in university enrolment across the region and the fact that thousands of young people are graduating each year; their qualifications are unable to secure many of them jobs.
The report blames the falling quality of education on universities admitting more students than they can handle and lacking adequate teachers. Education experts and university administrators have argued that additional enrolment can only be handled if the governments pump more funds into higher education, so institutions can afford to expand infrastructure and hire extra tutors.
And employers are increasingly shunning new graduates in favour of the highly skilled personnel, complicating the problem of youth unemployment in the region.
“Employers said most graduates lacked self-confidence, could not express themselves properly and lacked the technical mastery required in the jobs they are seeking,” reads part of the report.
The region had been hoping to use its growing number of graduates to drive economic growth following the decision to enter the integration bloc, the East African Community, with a population base of over 140 million.
The bloc agreed to open up its borders to a free flow of human capital, with job-seekers easily looking for jobs in any of the five countries.
But educationists and labour economists said the damning state of the skills base means an imbalance is looming, where perceptions of the quality of graduates in each of the countries will determine the flow of labour.
Mr Emanuel Frank, a Human Resources expert based in Dar es Salaam, told The Citizen that the performance of most graduates was a testimony that something was wrong in the region’s institutions of higher learning.
“They lack understanding of small issues which one expects them to be aware of even in areas they tell you they are acquainted with,” he said.
He said there was a need to review whether trainings in universities and attachments were relevant and whether there were enough qualified tutors in the colleges.
“Failure to do so would lead to foreigners taking up all the jobs,” he warned.
The findings pose a big headache for IUCEA, which has been working on harmonisation of higher education in the region.
Harmonisation is aiming, among other things, to establish a fully-fledged credit transfer system that would allow students to move between universities in different countries without losing credits they have already accumulated.
But this plan has been riddled with delays and controversy arising from nationalistic interests, with partner countries unwilling to relinquish sovereignty for the sake of a regional system. There are also large variations in quality and curricula, length of degrees and financing of universities.
Tanzania, for instance, needs nearly 31,000 new teachers for both primary and secondary schools within two years to provide adequate education to an ever-increasing number of students.