Not so long ago in 1995, Rwanda had only two universities, one public, the National University of Rwanda in Butare, and the other private, the Adventists University for Central Africa.
The picture has changed since; the country now boasts 32 higher learning institutions, private and public, producing over 58,000 holders of bachelor's degrees, diplomas and postgraduates, over the last 12 years.
This is according to a survey by the National Council for Higher Education.
In 2000 and 2001, that number was as low as 741 graduates.
However, much as the number of graduates has risen, questions abound over their quality and whether they can perform at the top level in the labour market.
According to Lawson Naibo, the Chief Operating Officer of Bank of Kigali, both public and private companies should not complain if they are not willing to invest to further train the graduates they hire.
"People assume that when someone graduates, they are a complete item, yet in reality, all they know is theory with no on-the-job experience. That is why some employers lament the quality of their employees," Naibo told The New Times yesterday.
"When a company hires a fresh graduate, they must invest in their training so that they become what the company wants them to be and have the skills to execute their tasks to the satisfaction of their employer. The university only prepares them and gives them general knowledge, but if the employer is willing to train them further, they will surely deliver."
Naibo also argued that companies would benefit greatly if they dealt directly with the universities rather than wait to hire job applicants.
"For example at Bank of Kigali, we deal directly with tertiary institutions to link us with their best candidates. Once they have graduated, we take them in and tailor them to the services we offer. I believe that this is the best approach for any business," he said.
The founder of Rwanda Tourism College, Zulfat Mukarubega, says that the change in Rwanda's education system has proved troublesome in the short run for French speaking graduates.
"When you look at the history of Rwanda, it is not until recently that institutions started producing English speaking graduates. The economy now demands that graduates speak English or both English and French; so you find university graduates who find it difficult to express their ideas in English once hired," Mukarubega said.
"However good a graduate can be, he can be disappointing to his employer if he cannot communicate properly; therefore, I advise young students to concentrate on learning as many languages as possible to have an upper hand."
She also urged the education system to focus on specialisation at the earlier stages of education.
"Specialisation is the best education policy, whereby, a student, right from primary and high school, figures out what they want to become and teachers help to tutor them in that direction. Upon graduation, such a student is of more quality than the one who studied a whole variety of subjects," she said.
Mukarubega's argument is shared by Peter Rutaremara, the President of the International Certified Public Accountants, who believes that the education system must be adjusted to suit the ever-changing economy.
"We have had several meetings on the topic, on how to improve the quality of graduates because clearly, very many employers, of which I am, are not very impressed by the quality on the market," Rutaremara said.
"There needs to be more emphasis on practical learning in all education institutions, so that by the time a young adult enters the labour market, they don't feel left out by the ever-changing modern methods of job execution."
The National Council for Higher Learning (NCHL) notes that although a challenge of quality remains, the ministry has a framework for monitoring the progress of graduates.
Every once a year, a survey is conducted by NCHL to find out how the newly employed graduates are fairing, and according to Professor Geoffrey Rugege, the Executive Director, NCHE, it is from the findings that interactions between learning institutions and business entities begin.
"What we give to students in university is not specifically tailored to suit a certain job, which is why they need orientation once employed. We encourage the development of business incubation centres at higher learning institutions, where the students can get the experience they need, as well as get the know-how of starting up their own businesses," Rugege said.
The Private Sector Federation (PSF) is also conducting a survey about the market needs, to ascertain the existing skills gap.
"We need to know the type of skills available against the ones needed on the labour market. Through the needs and skills assessment, we shall know the extent of the existing gaps, and then make recommendations to both teaching institutions and employers," Gerard Mukubu, the Deputy CEO of PSF said in an interview.
NCHE states that its mission is to maintain quality assurance in the provision of higher education and to ensure that higher learning institutions produce citizens capable of playing their part in the Rwandan economy.
Enrollment has grown over the last 17 years; whereas NUR had about 2,000 students in 1995, enrollment at all higher learning institutions currently stand at more than 73,000 students studying disciplines in arts and sciences.