Qualifications or experience: What is more important?

There is an increase in the number of universities in the country making it easy for one to acquire higher education qualifications. As such more undergraduates are going for graduate studies soon after their first qualification, and as with everything else, this, too, has its advantages and disadvantages.

Before Rosta Asiimwe completed her undergraduate degree in Human Nutrition, she had applied for a Master in Public Health Nutrition.

“I worked on-and-off for five months with research organisations. That little experience motivated me to take my master’s degree seriously. Previously, I was just going through the motions but then I became interested in research. Besides, the pay is good in research work.” The advantage of rushing into a postgraduate programme is that you are still young, usually with few other responsibilities, so, you, have the time to concentrate.

On the downside, you are more likely to continue in the same course you studied at the undergraduate level. Gaining work experience opens the mind to a variety of career choices.

Merits of growing your career first
Spending a few years in the work arena can help a person to focus their future career goals.

Grace Kenganzi, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, took a postgraduate in Media and Communications after working for more than three years in a media house.

“By that time, I was sure of what else I needed that I could not get from my workplace. I had majored in public relations at my undergraduate and since I worked for a media organisation, I had learnt on the job. I was more deliberate as I looked for a postgraduate course; I did not want just any media course because in the future, I want to branch into communication.”

Samuel Bakutana, CEO of Inspired Leaders International, says by concentrating on growing a career, a person comes to terms with the real demands of the job world, instead of making up their mind based on what they are told in the lecture room.

“The working experience gives you a more mature perspective. By the time I went for my Master’s in Leadership, I was already aware of the glaring gaps, the available opportunities and the needs of my future work. I approached the studies with a more mature, sober and committed attitude,” he says.

“A working background enables you to relate with the programme content at a more real, practical and personal level because you have gone through the scenarios (or have examples to draw from) being presented in the course materials as you progressively apply the new or renewed learning.”

Financial question
When you are younger, chances of getting a scholarship are higher than if you are above 35 years. However, all is not bleak.

“There are specialised programmes, for example The Chevening Scholarship Programme, that only gives scholarships to people who have careers,” Kenganzi says, adding, “You can only know about them when you are working. If I had studied my postgraduate much earlier, I would not have thought of studying abroad or applying for a scholarship.”

Generally, because a master’s degree can be expensive and students may be uncertain about what they want to do with their lives, students should gain some real-world experience before beginning a master’s degree programme.

Fitting into the labour market

Rosta Asiimwe says employers are comfortable employing someone who already has job experience because, from a purely financial perspective, training new staff is expensive and may not pay off immediately. Grace Kenganzi believes her work experience and newly acquired Master’s degree gives her an edge. “I know what I want and I will ask for it. I cannot just accept anything thrown my way,” she says.

But Asiimwe is not so confident. “Getting a job will be quite tricky. In the Ugandan (labour) market, (work) experience is the password and I know those who have it have an advantage over me.”

Evelyn Bahemuka, the learning and development partner
Stanbic Bank, Uganda says, depending on the entry level of employment, the employer may not mind about experience. I believe people need to do these (masters) courses when they are still young and fresh, before working bogs them down.