Nearly 2,000 students of the University of Liberia received their first degrees in various academic disciplines Wednesday with worrying signs of job opportunity for many of them.
Reviewing a list of nearly 2,000 new graduates of the University of Liberia Wednesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she has foreseen some difficulties in finding jobs for many of them, saying the country needs more graduates in science courses to work in the emerging oil and mining sectors.
"We have made our Medical, Agriculture and Teachers Colleges free, yet our young people do not enter these colleges in sufficient numbers. Today, for whatever reason, there's not a single doctor who is graduating. There is one pharmacist who is graduating in a post-conflict country that desperately needs engineers, scientists and teachers. Today, 925 of you are coming out of Business College, compared to 146 graduating from the College of Science and Technology, 106 from Agriculture and 65 from the Teachers College," she said in a speech at the university's 93th commencement convocation at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium in Paynesville.
On the topic, "The Indispensable Role of Tertiary Education in Liberia's Post-Conflict Development," the President who is also Visitor to the University of Liberia, said mindful of the important role that education plays in any society, Liberia's founding fathers made a fundamental decision to establish an institution of higher education to supply the manpower needs of the country.
She spoke about the checkered history of how the state sponsored university was founded in 1851 with the subsequent admission of few young men who presented certificates of good moral character and passed examination in Greek, Latin and Mathematics.
Emphasizing the indispensable role that the University of Liberia in particular, and tertiary education in general, have played in Liberia's national development plan, she said educators agree that broad-based development and transformation rests substantially on the development of human skills and the capacity to create and adapt knowledge and technology appropriate to the needs of individual nations and local solutions.
She said she believes that the economic development momentum and accomplishments of a nation are directly proportional to its investment in tertiary education. "A nation depends heavily on the human capital produced by tertiary educational institutions for its leaders, thinkers, planners, inventors and managers," she pointed out.
"We repose this weighty responsibility in institutions of higher learning for three reasons. First, every university is intended to produce the human capital needed for the realization of national socio-economic agenda, which must be of quality and relevant locally and internationally. Second, a university provides the space to undertake research that facilitates knowledge, improves the quality of life and enables policy makers to enrich and inform their decisions. And third, a university takes the lead in providing think-tank services for the public and private sectors of society."
"We need to improve the quality of service and output to make it meaningful to our existing objective. The dearth of sufficient locally competent human capital to ensure cost-effective national transformation and prosperity has been one of the limiting factors in our reconstruction and rehabilitation.
"We all know that an informed nation makes sound decisions, and that a political system thrives when its population is highly educated. The task of educating our people to make reasoned decisions, for themselves or others or both, is the mission of our educational system, especially tertiary institutions.
"Government's major thrust in making higher education accessible to more people was to decentralize tertiary education. Thus, from three institutions in the entire country in 1980, the country now boasts of eleven state-owned and church-supported institutions, including community colleges and the Sinji Polytechnic, with a combined enrollment of 44,000 students - 31,000 of them in the University of Liberia system alone.
The President then called for the need to improve the quality of education to ensure an educated nation in keeping with the National Vision. "We need a revival, we need a rethink, we need a reorientation because now more than ever before, we need graduates in the sciences to work in our petroleum and mining sectors. We need agriculturists to support our work in food security and food sovereignty. We desperately need teachers to improve the quality of education in order to produce an educated nation in keeping with our National Vision. We can only become a middle-income country if we sharply reduce the adult illiteracy rate of over 41 percent."
She said she was happy that the University President Dr. Emmett Dennis said about the changing trend when he mentioned that so many in the current enrollment had indeed shifted from some of the traditional areas to be able to go into the sciences and engineering that the nation need so desperately.
"The University of Liberia has a leading role in sustaining the democratic culture we are building. We expect that scholars will be inspired to undertake research and develop new ideas that will enrich national policies; that new and positive ideas will be encouraged to investigate some of the problems to develop our development drive; and that they will help us to be able to promote our progress to tackle issues like corruption, the lack of a vigorous entrepreneur spirit, and of innovation."
Our belief in the transformative power of tertiary education is strong and genuine. It must be meaningful and beneficial to the holder. Indeed, it must be pursued upon sober reflection based on clear vision. Students pursuing that will provide guarantee of satisfaction and happiness both to the individual and to the state.
She also said rebuilding Liberia is the collective responsibility of all Liberians. "We cannot expect foreign workers to provide the mechanical and technical expertise which this country needs, and which it will require even more of in the future. We must be able to fill all the gaps and the vacuum that exist in our technical and managerial capacity."