Let us begin with anecdotes. A humble looking businessperson called at a bank to open an account. In his bag, he carried $60 000. Given an application to fill, he just fumbled with the form. The bank official had to complete it for him. “I did not even pass the Junior Certificate exams,” he confessed.
“If with only that education you could make such money from business suppose you were a graduate, how much do you think you would be earning?”
“As a graduate, I would be earning six dollars a month as a messenger or waiter.”
Decades ago in an English public school as was the practice, pupils aged 11 were grouped into bright ones who should proceed to do the GCE and then go to university. The less bright were allocated to vocational technical schools. Thirty years later, the public school principal made a follow-up on its alumni. He found that some of those who had gone to the university were now working for those who had gone to the technical school and taken courses that enabled them to go into business of their own.
Both of these are situations where in an economy, jobs have become too scarce and graduates do jobs that were meant for non-graduates.
In The Economist dated 3rd to 9th February 2018, there is an article discussing problems of an oversupply of university graduates, not just in poor developing countries but even rich ones like those of the Orgainisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) such as Britain, USA and South Korea.
It is an acknowledged fact that devotion to education at all levels is one of the factors that enabled South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong to achieve miraculous industrialisation. But in some of these countries, overproduction of graduates is proving to be a burden.
In South Korea, 70 percent of secondary school graduates go to universities to take degrees. But half of the unemployed in the country are graduates. The magazine quotes a recruiter of labour at a firm as saying “around half the applicants for customer services jobs are graduates even though only a secondary school education is specified”.
In the United States, land of legendary opportunities, 16 percent of waiters now have degrees. Do we know what the situation is in Malawi where universities have mushroomed in the last 20 years?
Do people in high places give much thought to the impeding consequences of what is happening in tertiary education? Multi-party democracy with its circulation of elites has both advantages and disadvantages. By prescribing that a president may serve only two terms each five years, the electorate try other leaders.
Those holding or aspiring to hold office focus on matters or projects that can earn the votes less on matters of long-term benefits to which the masses do not give much thought. The will talk about providing subsdised agricultural inputs, roofing materials or building new universities but hardly touch problems that might arise 20 or 30 years hence.
It is time the government put a stopper on the erection of new universities unless the new universities introduce curriculums that are different from those existing universities are providing. Those with capital to invest should put their money in sustainable job creating sectors. Enough jobs for the next school leavers should be the objective.
Those who are employed on permanent jobs and have relatives who are also employed do sometimes forget the plight of the unemployed. It is difficult for a country to have enduring peace where too many graduates are unemployed. These are the people who read revolutionary polemics and get dissatisfied with the status quo.
If growing and wealthy countries like South Korea can fail to gainfully employ all their university graduates, what shall happen to countries with slow growing economies like Malawi? An economy that for two or three years grows at 5 percent GDP then for another three or four years grows at only two or three percent has a gloomy future. What do the people of Hong Kong and Singapore do that we do not? This is one of the questions that should be exercising our minds, especially members of the elite. n