New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Does a University Degree Still Hold the Key to Your Dream Job?

As the warm glow of university admissions gives way to the cold reality of today's job market, this year's entrants and their anxious parents may be tempted to wonder whether a university degree is still worth it?

With the plan to spend millions of shillings on higher education often taking on huge debts along the way; many come to face a job market that does not seem to need them.

Not only is the Ugandan economy producing few jobs, but also the ones that are being added are overwhelmingly on the lower end of skill and pay scale.

It is now uncertain that pursuing higher education will continue to guarantee a substantially more affluent and secure life. Higher degrees today do not guarantee a good job and higher earnings either.

There are good reasons to believe that a bachelor's degree alone, may not be enough to command rising premiums over a lesser education or to open doors to the kinds of jobs that graduates expect to do.

The job market has become increasingly polarised, with the fastest-growing occupations on either the low end or the high end, often for positions that require higher education than a bachelor's degree.

What the statistics show:

Government surveys from the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the vast majority of job gains in the previous years have gone to workers with only a high school education or less, casting some doubt on one of the nation's most deeply- held convictions that a university degree is the ticket to the prosperous dream.

Close to a half of the jobs always advertised in the media do not require more than on the-job training. One would not need a university degree to have the job.

Many people in Uganda work in the agricultural sector or are casual labourers. The agriculturalists comprise about 70% of all Uganda.

Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) findings indicate that illiterates are more likely to be available for work than the literates.

The remaining majority are left to try their luck in the informal sector, venturing into the entertainment industry, retail trade in places like arcades, markets, riding boda bodas and driving taxis among others.

The less enterprising languish on the streets or simply remain a burden to the already overstretched parents.

The 2005 State of Uganda's Population Report noted that if the youth unemployment rate of 23% persists, about 4.37 million youth will be jobless and there will be social tension and a lot of crime in the country.

One of the greatest challenges is that the current workforce appears to be under-skilled. Roughly about 15% of the employment covers semi-skilled occupations.

Although the labour force grew by some 1.1 million persons from 2002/3 to 2005/6, job openings did not expand by a commensurate rate, locking out thousands of mainly qualified youth.

However, civil service jobs increased by 60% in 2008, possibly due to creation of new districts, but the new opportunities are grossly inadequate to absorb job seekers.

The most startling finding is that only about 545,000 of Ugandans (5% of total labour force) hold permanent jobs, indicating temporary or contract employees plus those in the informal sector largely power the country's 7% GDP growth.

The latest report follows a recent World Bank warning that an increase in joblessness, during the pressing times of economic downturn, could trigger an explosion in crime, resulting in civil unrest.

Agriculture and the informal sector are the most important sectors of Uganda's labour market, according to the report based on business, technical and vocational education and training (BTVET).

About 15% of the employment covers semiskilled occupations, "for which lower level BTVET might be an adequate preparation.

"Agricultural employment continues to cater for some 70% of the Ugandan workforce, and subsistence agriculture still accounts for about 55 to 60% of it. The service and industrial sectors absorb only 20% and 10% respectively," adds the report.

The same report notes that these proportions are not expected to change in the near future and there is a big disparity of labour productivity between Uganda's firms and those in other countries.

"Value added per worker in Uganda has been 68% lower than that in India and 96% lower than that in China," it notes.

The report says, the current business and technical system is not meeting the requirements of the economy.

A 2006 survey by UBOS indicated that a majority of individuals entering the labour market do not have the necessary skills and knowledge.

Unemployment in Uganda is highest among graduates compared to other categories of the workforce, a Labour Market Conditions Report has revealed.

What could be the solution

Based on these findings, the education ministry and the Government are putting so much emphasis on the development of vocational education in the country.

The education permanent secretary Francis Lubanga, argues that with the development of tertiary education, the country will reduce on unemployment since there will be more job creators.

Patrick Sempala, the principal education officer in the department of Business, Technical and Vocational Education Training, observes that the degree syndrome has pushed parents and students to care less about the relevance of the course they are doing, provided they have one.

As a result, they get into the job market with little or no practical knowledge. According to the education ministry's director of the directorate of industrial training, Henry Okinyal, the developed countries have reached their level of development because they have embraced extensive skill development.

That is why we should put more emphasis on skills through career guidance.

Employment Statistics:

According to the UBOS, out of the 480,000 Ugandans who enter the labour market each year, only about 80,000 are absorbed in formal employment.

Uganda's unemployment rate stands at 3.5% and under-employment, which is mainly prevalent in rural areas, is at 17%

About 75% in the labour force are aged below 40

In Kampala, the youth unemployment rate is at 32.2%, while among university graduates, the unemployment rate is 36%.

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