Rita Ninsiima is fresh out of university after attaining a bachelor’s in mass communication. Like most graduates, top on her agenda was getting a job. Application after application, she received a phone call for a written interview as an online editor at one of the local media houses. She was ecstatic; this would be her big break. An hour later she handed in her answer sheet.
“Excuse me,” the supervisor addressed her, “You have not indicated your byline.”
She thought long and hard what a ‘by-line’ was but could not bring it back to memory.
“Honestly speaking, I didn’t remember what it was so I put the word ‘byline’ and then wrote a headline. The supervisor looked at me and then told me that a byline was the name of who had written the story. I never got that job, not even a phone call to tell me why,” Ninsiima, one of thousands of graduands from over 30 universities in the country every year and over 100 universities in the East African region, said.
A 2014 report by IUCA showed that of the total employers interviewed in Uganda, only 37 per cent were satisfied with Ugandan graduates while 63 per cent faulted the graduates, saying the employees they had hired for the past one year hadn’t been adequately prepared by their institutions. However, 82 per cent of the higher institutions interviewed said that they had adequately prepared the graduates for the job market.
Kenyan institutions were ranked first in producing graduates who have hands on skills necessary for the job market.
In light of the high job competition, theory based education sector and an ever increasing number of graduates being passed out each year, graduates should be able to have basic knowledge and skills to enable them get easily absorbed in the job sector, Philip Ayoo, the principal innovation and outreach officer at Inter University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) says.
It is under this that the notion of an ideal graduate is built.
Mr Ayoo says an ideal graduate should have both the practical and theoretical knowledge in his or her field. However, there is a blame game between the academia who educate the graduates and the private sector which absorbs graduates on who should be able to equip them skills in the different professions.
“The private sector blames the academia for the low qualified graduates but the academia says their role is not to produce a fully baked graduate but rather to produce a graduate and have him trained by the private sector,” Mr Ayoo says.
Ivan Nkono, the regional human resource manager at Malaria Consortium says it is not the role of employers to give experience and skills to graduates but they (companies), could work together with the academia to help produce better equipped graduates.
“Ideal or not is dependent on so many factors. Lack of practical applied experience has been noted for many graduates that I have interacted with. Companies or employers can work with colleges and graduate schools in increasing and incorporating internship and other programs that give practical, real world exposure which ultimately makes the students better-rounded and better able to hit the ground running,” Mr Nkono explains.
Prof Mayunga Nkunya, the executive secretary of IUCEA says there is need to change the attitude and mindset towards graduates by the academia, the private and the public sectors. He underscores the necessity to improve higher education as a way of meeting the standards of education across the East African region.
“It is better to have a half cooked graduate than no graduate at all. The building block of good education is higher education not basic information as many believe. For example, if training of teachers is improved, then the quality of those they teach will as well improve,” Prof Nkunya explains.
With the ongoing debate on what an ideal graduate should have, Mr Nkono points to good communication skills as one of the skills every graduate should have.
“It is painfully apparent that many graduates lack basic communication skills that would be expected of a graduate,” he says.
“Given the technological advances and access to resources that today’s graduates have, you would expect them to be better prepared than graduates from previous decades; but that is not the case. The tradeoff for all these technological advances are a decrease in communication and interpersonal skills and lack of intuition and innate drive since everything is readily available at finger tips and they are no longer forced to think for themselves. Today’s graduates are also losing critical thinking skills,” he continues.
He points out the ability to work in a team, good planning and organisational skills, have integrity, creativity and innovation, technological awareness, commitment to learning and to the job plus a good attitude as some of the skills and competences an ideal graduate should have.
With the integration of the East African Community, producing an ideal graduate will help in ensuring that graduates in any of the member countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) can work anywhere without additional qualifications, Mr Ayoo of IUCEA adds.