To fight unemployment, establish vocational schools in all sub-counties

Tuesday March 31 2015

By Prof George B Kirya

We remember the time when it had become fashionable for various districts to demand a university in their areas. In many cases, these demands came when a district identified a boarding or day school, a technical school or a vocational training institution that was doing well and they targeted it to turn it into a university. That meant the district was ready to forego an institution they knew was doing well to venture into a university they were never sure how it would turn out.

Misfortunes did befall some districts where the universities they started failed to take off, having sacrificed their good school or institution. The end result was to lose the original institution as well as the university they had started.

Old students from a number of these schools or institutions often lament over losing these formative education connections. One wonders whether it is good to sacrifice an institution known to be doing well for a new university.

It is time for the Ministry of Education and Sports to come out with a clear policy on this matter. The ideal thing would be to build new universities, or expand the existing ones rather than replace existing institutions.

Uganda today tends to glorify quantity and leave quality to chance. We feel proud to talk about the many universities we have, the high enrollment numbers in primary and secondary schools as well as universities, without showing any concern about the quality of graduates.
Uganda today has 38 universities - six of them are public and 32 are private.

One common factor in most, if not all of them, is resource constraints. Almost all institutions of higher education in Uganda are facing the problem of inadequate staff members, which affects the standards of the graduates.

This is why some employers complain that many graduate employees have poor communication skills and writing competence performance; some cannot even write a good letter in English, leave alone writing a reasonable report.

There is urgent need for government and the private sector to improve the funding for universities, in order to improve the quality of graduates. There is also urgent need to improve the remuneration and general conditions of staff members in universities.

Universities in other parts of the world are fighting for the best global positions. They work towards being ranked among the world’s top institutions of learning and in research, with the intention of providing an unrivalled student and graduate experience.

One then wonders how our graduates can compete for jobs outside the boundaries of Uganda when the market in their own country finds them deficient on several accounts.

As the labour market becomes more specialised and the economies demand high level skills, many governments and businesses in the world are increasingly investing in the future of vocational and technical education through public-funded training organisations. Vocational and technical education has diversified and now exists in industries, in services and cosmetics as well as traditional crafts and cottage industries.

Skills trainings are no longer depicted as secondary class education. There are now many vocational education centres around the world, and vocational training is an important part of the education system in countries like Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Switzerland, USA and Malaysia.

It is high time Ugandans started appreciating that a bachelor’s degree programme is not the only way to get training you need for a great career. Community colleges, vocational institutions and technical institutions which offer even shorter courses prepare you to jump right into a variety of careers.

We are informed that many plumbers in UK earn much more than even professors or medical doctors. The good thing about vocational or technical institutions is that they can be tailored to accommodate students from any level.
In many cases, graduates of these institutions do not look for jobs; jobs look for them once they learn how to market themselves. They are also good job creators. It would also be easier for government to support a group of youths with skills than those without.

Vocational schools serve a distinctive purpose as they provide short-term training that prepares students to enter the work-force in fields that are in demand. The skills you acquire make you more marketable in this ever-changing world of employment.

This is the time for the government to establish vocational training or technical institutions in every sub-county to fight the rising unemployment among the youth. Both the local and central governments ought to embark on this policy, and they should persuade the private sector to come on board. These institutions will contribute a lot to fighting unemployment among Ugandan youth.

Prof Kirya is a professor of medical microbiology, former Vice Chancellor of Makerere University and former HighCommissioner for Uganda in the United Kingdom.