Congratulations are in order for the new graduates of the University of Botswana. Unfortunately we do not have the exact figures of the 2014 class. For those who are familiar with UB administration they would know that it is easier to get hold of the Office of the President than the UB administration. We made several attempts on Friday to establish the number of graduates that UB released to the market as of Saturday, but to no avail. The once ambitious UB administrators could not pick our line for most part of the day ÔÇô they do that to almost everyone.
Back to graduation, there is a general saying that “life begins at forty”, well at this particular juncture in our country, at least for these fresh graduates, “life began on graduation day”. Actually for most of them it began in May this year when the Ministry of Education stopped crediting their temporary bank accounts with the P1400 living allowance. No more allowance guys. But sadly there is likelihood that there would be no salary for most of you any time soon, for a longer period. The bad news is that the labour market is saturated. And that means no jobs for you and other graduates. If you are lucky you will get enrolled on the government internship programme.
The income though, is roughly the same as when you were students. We find it to be our obligation to warn you that some private companies and sadly the government too, are out there, waiting patiently to exploit you. They certainly are going to use you to reach their annual targets through the government internship programme.
Established in August 2008, the programme was initially designed to help reduce the unemployment figure among graduates in our country. But six years down the line, can we proudly celebrate achievement of the programme? Can we happily do that when in actual fact we know that most private companies who are taking part in this project are actually using it as cost reduction measure? Can we remain calm when current interns continue to express dissatisfaction with the manner in which the programme is managed? We hear some companies have gone to an extent of contravening the country’s labour laws to capitalise on what they see as a lucrative source of cheap labour. Our fresh graduates should introspect before deciding to venture into this kind of ‘employment’.
Our policy makers should be reminded that the task to promote the employment rate of university graduates, such as those who marched at UB over the weekend remains arduous to say the least. This is so partly because the total number of graduates is still very large, and some graduates’ expectations for jobs do not match the demands of employers.
Available statistics show that the University of Botswana have over the years produced more graduates in certain disciplines than the economy is able to absorb or need them. It is also clear that over the past decades, our overall education policy neglected other areas, most notably the engineering and technical disciplines, including but not limited to medicine and its related specialized disciplines. Despite our country being blessed with mineral resources, our education system has over the years failed to produce adequate mining engineers.
Thirty years ago, it might have made sense to focus on sending increasing numbers of students to university. Over the years, Government funding of post-secondary education has been driven primarily by enrolment. This means the post-secondary system has become addicted to enrolment growth and the tuition revenue it brings.
Institutions such as the University of Botswana, but lately private semi-universities and colleges actively recruit and compete for as many students as they can get because their financial future is dependent on that revenue stream. The general observation is that of late, if Batswana students can’t find exactly what they want ÔÇô say, a bachelor’s program with no math, science or language requirement ÔÇô all they have to do is look around to find an institution that provides it regardless of the academic merit involved or what the labour market currently requires.
This has, as figures would support us, shown that there are more students enrolled in humanities programs than science, technology, engineering, math, computer science and information science combined. The end result though is 17.8 percent level of unemployment rate in our country.
Sadly it is now quite evident that the pool of unemployed graduates in our country has risen to worrying levels. This calls for a deliberate change in the way we do things. Perhaps it is high time that the government should stop “fully” funding programs that have neither a direct link nor pathway to some type of employment. The University of Botswana should find it easy to impose a moratorium on courses with poor job prospects. The same strategy should be applied across all our universities and colleges as a way of making the government to aggressively invest in programs that better reflect our labour market needs.
Uncontrolled expansion of universities which offers duplicate programmes should be the government’s number one priority. This could be done by urging institutions around the country to reduce student intakes in courses with low levels of graduate employment. Courses should be ‘downsized’ or even cancelled if less than 60 percent of their graduating students in two successive years fail to find work.
At the same time, the government should also build a labour market information system to map supply and demand. The Bottomline however is that there is need to focus not just on expanding higher education, but also ensuring quality at the same time if graduate unemployment is to be contained.