Is university education relevant?

Brian Mukalazi

What you need to know:

  • Most business courses in our universities are designed to primarily impart skills needed for careers in management but little attention is paid to entrepreneurship.

In May 2015, Ernst and Young, one of the big four accounting firms, announced that it would remove the degree classification from its entry criteria, after its internal research of more than 400 graduates found ‘no evidence’ that success at university is linked to achievement at the firm.
The firm went even further when it said it was getting rid of its policy of requiring a minimum of a 2:1 or 3 B’s at A-Levels, in order to present opportunities to applicants “regardless of their background”.
Questions over the relevance of a university degree continue to challenge the Ugandan education sector and many people, including parents, students and employers, cannot help but wonder - is it really worth the investment?

Back in the good olden days, possession of a university degree could almost guarantee its holder instant entry into the workplace. Then, degrees were rare and it is argued that graduates were better trained than today.
I have personally encountered many university graduates who cannot say or write three correct English sentences. Also, I have heard of multiple cases involving Ugandan professionals, especially those in the medical discipline, who seek employment abroad but somehow fail to pass the competency examinations which would permit them to practice in those designated countries.

As an MBA student at Makerere University is excitedly thinking of a promotion, increased earning potential and job security upon graduation, his/her colleague at Harvard or Stanford University is thinking of how to start and run a business!
Most business courses in our universities are designed to primarily impart skills needed for careers in management but little attention is paid to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a combination of different variables and is geared towards risk-taking and testing oneself. It tests every part of who you are; your passion, your endurance, your perseverance and your leadership skills, among others.

Take a look at the university technical courses such as engineering. In search of work and practical training, many students and graduates majoring in these courses find themselves at local workshops and garages in Katwe, Ndeeba, Kisekka Market in Kampala and other locations spread across the country. Mind you, these workshops are mostly owned and operated by school dropouts and to them, such business lines could have been selected as a last resort to improving their economic livelihoods.
Technical and vocational education in Uganda is still generally regarded by many as education for the intellectually inferior students and is associated with non-prestigious blue-collar employment. Yet this form of education has often been highlighted as one of the key tools needed in bridging the appalling skills gap in the country.

Despite the above challenges, I strongly believe university education is key in accelerating our country’s economic development and it is also a critical component of human development. An educated population is vital in today’s world, with the convergent impacts of globalisation, and the increasing importance of knowledge as a main driver of growth.
To realise the full benefits of university education, the government and private sector players need to immediately modernise it in the face of changing needs and technologies. Ultimately, the higher education sector needs an overhaul and reshaping in order to give it new life and a new relevance, including transforming institutions to meet changing social needs.

Mr Mukalazi is the country director ofEvery Child Ministries Uganda.
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