When I completed high school and was admitted to the university, I knew it was the best opportunity for me to understand how my knowledge of physics and mathematics, largely theoretical, acquired in secondary school could be applied to solve real-world problems, especially in the job market.
Little did I know that this expectation was a pretty far-fetched hope. At university, lecturers continued giving us more theoretical knowledge.
It was very uncommon for a lecturer to mention how this knowledge would be practically applied in the industry or other contexts in the job market. I believe my sentiments echo the disappointment experienced by the many graduates who have been continuously blamed for lack of job market skills.
As the number of university graduates who score good grades but are wanting in the employable skills increase, there is a growing body of evidence that what students learn or more likely don’t learn in university makes them ill-prepared for the job market.
A report by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), conducted from December 2012 to January 2014 showed that 82% of the higher institutions interviewed maintained that they had adequately prepared the graduates for the job market.
Now, that brings me round nicely to the theme of my article today. If a student completes university and lacks job market skills, whose fault is it? Does the blame lie with the student, the lecturer, or is it a combination of the two? In order for us to answer the question, we need to first look at the different perspectives. So, let’s do that first.
In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the students to attend lectures and tutorials, ensure that they have read the key chapters from any core textbook(s), printouts and read the lecture notes and be ready to participate in any ensuing discussions during lectures and tutorials.
In terms of the responsibilities of lecturers, I think they should make lecture notes available prior to delivering their lectures, identify any core textbooks, attempt to engage students, encourage independent thinking and make themselves available to students as much as possible. That is what they are actually paid to do.
Lecturers should also be able to relate the knowledge they offer to practical experiences in the job market and give students practical hands-on skills to enable them to adapt easily to the world of work.
Although lack of job market skills is a global problem, the biggest challenge in Uganda and indeed in other African countries, in my opinion, is that most lecturers do not have industrial experience. They, therefore, lack an understanding of the job market. Worse still they have no meaningful collaborative research activities with companies in the market.
For example, it is not surprising to find a lecturer who has never started a business teaching entrepreneurship education to students and urging them to start businesses. This is not only demotivating to students but also makes it hard for the lecturer to transfer the necessary skills because such a lecturer has no skills to impart anyway.
This lack of industrial experience on the part of the lecturers is one of the main reasons why university education, at present, is not sufficiently application-oriented and is producing graduates who lack job market skills.
My experience shows that the trend is totally different in developed countries where lecturers and professors spend many years in the industry before taking on teaching jobs. They, therefore, transfer employable skills relevant to the job market since they are aware of the job market dynamics themselves. They also keep actively engaged in industrial research and offer a lot of time to students.
Although I am completely aware that there are other pressures on lecturers and their careers don’t revolve around students exclusively, this should not be an excuse for the little time they offer students. You find one lecturer teaching in four universities. Where does he or she get the time? Instead of investing in research and guiding students, such lecturers spend all their time moving to different workstations and marking students’ scripts.
In my view, schooling even at the university should deliver the fundamental skills for employability to the students, so that later on employers can then conduct on-the-job training that is specific to their needs. To that end, lecturers must be in constant contact with the job market and should have first-hand knowledge of the processes, techniques and other values needed by industry.
They should also have a practical idea of the problems faced by the industry. Familiarity with current practices, problems and development trends in the job market would help lecturers bring in a better orientation to teaching. Otherwise the cliché “do as I say and not as I do” may not be helpful as far as transfer of skills is concerned.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says training institutions continue to produce graduates whose skills do not match what the market wants. This mismatch makes it harder to tackle youth unemployment.
In improving the quality of university graduates with the relevant job market skills, one has to consider several integral aspects. However, factors such as lecturers’ competence and the methodology of teaching they adopt are very important.
The best preparation for today’s job market is a realistic mix of classroom learning that can be applied in real-world experiences or a combination of academic and practical experiences. This preparation in my view can only be offered by lecturers who have practical industrial work experience.
If universities don’t improve the quality of graduates they produce, we will see employers looking for people without university degrees perhaps because having a degree no longer guarantees someone’s employability skills.
This article was originally published here.