Two of the most significant events in the education calendar come to pass this week.
On the one hand, some 14,895 students are graduating from Makerere University - the biggest number of graduands by any university in Uganda.
On the other hand, tens of thousands of candidates will get their results, having sat A-level exams last year. Apart from the few students who can’t graduate for some reason, and those who fail to obtain at least two principal passes in their UACE exams, it will be jubilation across the country this whole week.
However, when the dust has settled, it will be time for a reality check. Majority of the graduands will not find a job for many years to come. Similarly, majority of the A-level victors will join universities and spend an arm and a leg on tuition for three to four years, but they will not be guaranteed a job upon completion of their studies.
That is the reality of Uganda’s education system and our economy today. Vocational education has been touted as a way out of this predicament for good reason. With universities churning out so many students to compete for so few white and blue collar jobs every year, it would be wise to focus on skills rather than papers.
A skilled mechanic, builder, plumber, electrician, hairdresser, farmer, carpenter, tailor or nurse with a certificate or diploma is better off than someone with a degree that can’t give them a job.
The government’s Skilling Uganda strategy, which aims to shift focus from traditional academic qualifications to skills development, is a step in the right direction. The training regime is shorter, the fees lower, and chances of getting employed higher.
However, for the program to succeed, vocational institutions should be sufficiently equipped to give students the skills they need to make the most out of their abilities.
Nevertheless, the government still bears the responsibility of initiating economic policies that will create employment for the vast majority of students leaving tertiary institutions.
But having failed to deliver on that, it’s incumbent on students and their parents to be smart. That calls for a mindset change that puts emphasis on what one can do rather than academic qualifications