When La-Mindong Graduated from Mission Secondary School Gindiri, her parents urged her to go and learn a trade. However, being a strong student and ambitious, trade seemed like selling herself short. “Going to university was the automatic thing to do,” she says. “Prestige is the appropriate word to describe how university was presented to me in secondary school.”
Fascinated by economics and international relations, La-Mindong signed up for political science at University of Jos . Although she wasn’t sure where she’d end up, she believed that getting a university education would lead her to a fulfilling career.
But when she graduated in January, 2014, after many years of strike, she felt completely unprepared for a job related to her field. “When I came out of university, I wondered, ‘Why did I just do that?’” she laments. La-mindong is now patching together a living working, restaurant and an artisan in kano. She plans to enroll in a public relations program at NIPR College lagos in January, 2015, in the hope of landing a communications role in the food industry. “I just hope I come out actually employable,” she says.
La-mindong ’s story is all too familiar. Too many young people flounder around the margins of their chosen field, bouncing from unpaid internship to short term contract to coffee shop job. Youth unemployment continues to hover stubbornly around 60 per cent; only 2 per cent lower than its peak during the recession and double the national average. And the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story.
It seems like a bleak picture. And yet, if some politicians and employers are to be believed, Nigeria is facing a severe economic tragedy. Last two years, we thought if president Jonathan is out we shall enjoy the national cake… Those most in demand are said to be in the STEM fields: scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. In multiple surveys, employers complain that not only are applicants graduating from university without the needed technical knowledge, but also with a lack of soft skills such as communication, analysis and collaboration.
Stephen Harper has blamed the situation partly on “people’s choices,” meaning that students are at fault for choosing to study subjects that are not in demand. Gwyn Morgan, the long-time executive and board director of some of Canada’s largest corporations, points the finger at universities. “Many secondary graduates who manage to gain the qualifications needed to enter STEM programs are turned away when they apply to university, even with good marks, because universities won’t reallocate money to open more slots for students in those programs,” he wrote in The Globe and Mail. He cites a 2013 CIBC World Markets report that argued that universities wasted funds on producing graduates in out-of-demand fields, such as arts and humanities, while turning away thousands of qualified STEM applicants. Regardless of who’s to blame, a gap has emerged between young people’s expectations for their future (as cultivated by social norms, parents and even some guidance counsellors) and the realities of the labour market.“We’ve directed kids to university who would normally not have gone to university because we’ve said that it’s the path to success,” says Janet Lane, director of the Centre for Human Capital Policy at the Canada West Foundation. “It’s an expensive way to learn what you’re best at.”
So wherein lies the truth? Is a university education still the leg up that it once was? A close look at the numbers reveals a more nuanced story, in which the right sort of education is still the best route to a good job, decent income and, even better, health and happiness. But what makes an education relevant to this brave new world doesn’t fit neatly into the “skills shortage” narrative, and not all universities are delivering.
La-mindong wishes her high school and university had done a better job of providing accurate information about viable career paths. “The books in political science lists jobs you can get with specific degrees and under political science, it lists ‘diplomat.’ How many people get a pol- sci degree and go on to become diplomat?”
So if young people need to readjust their expectations for their future, what should they expect? How can they reconcile the story told by those decrying Nigerian’s shortage of skilled workers with the grim job market their generation is experiencing? And what kind of education will equip us to succeed?
IS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DEGREES THE ANSWER?
The point is that we’ve heard this refrain for decades: Too few young people are studying technical fields like science and engineering, companies can’t find qualified employees and it threatens our countries’ competitive advantage. So, get a degree in science and you’re practically guaranteed a job – right? That explains why a parent is willing to buy a house for the Vice Chancellor in Maitama Abuja if only he will give his son admission in pharmacy, medicine or engineering…even in the university allocation of little resources the science take 70% while others 30% … students of medicines are usually ajebours with special treatment compared to others in the arts you can only find a few in the law faculty. Not theatre arts or French. This is where the mystery begins. Why do so many people with science degrees end up in non-science jobs? According to a study conducted by the U.S. Commerce Department, only 25 per cent of the 15 million Americans who have a science degree work in a science job. And of all the people working in science fields, less than half hold a Science degree. So, at least in the United States, you don’t necessarily need a Science degree for a Science job and if you do get one, it won’t guarantee a job in the field anyway.
Although we in Nigeria don’t track the Science graduates like our American god fathers, these statistics offer one possible explanation for the experience of recent graduate. Walkyes After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in French language and literature at University of Jos, walkyes found part-time work as a translator and filled in the gaps with piece-work contracts translating documents for PhD students. “But it was too hard to scratch out a life,” she says, “especially here in jos” While researching her master’s thesis on the French technology walkyes discovered a love of engineering. And so she decided to take what she thought would be an easier path to gainful employment and go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering specializing in geology and hydrology at the University of Ibadan . She earned strong marks, volunteered for Engineers …With all this experience, she was confident when she started applying for jobs last October, a few months before her January, 2014, graduation. But nearly a year and 130 applications later, she has only landed two interviews and no permanent job offers. “My mind is blown,” she says, adding that she has had her résumé edited by a recruiter and two executives of resource extraction companies. “I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
Miss walkyes is now working with a construction company earning about #4000 yearly to “pay the bills” She feels like she was sold a false dream. “Twice now I’ve been told that there is going to be a great career for me at the end a lot of hard work and then there is nothing,” she says. “I don’t have a sense of entitlement. I’m not looking for anything fancy. I’m happy going up north and earning my way. Just let me engineer something already.” (Shortly afterwards, miss walkyes received an offer for a job she interviewed for in February. The position is a three-month temporary contract for less pay than her co-op positions, but she is delighted. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to get started.”)
Of course, the numbers above are American and Miss walkyese experience is only one story. So is a university education still the excellent route to the good life that it once was?
HOW DOES A DEGREE RELATE TO A GOOD LIFE?
So while it’s undeniable that this period of economic stagnation, political instability has affected the job market for young people more than older workers, a bachelor’s degree appears to insulate graduates from the harsh job market experienced by their non-educated peers. But not all university educations were created equal. As we’ve discovered, getting a science degree does not necessarily guarantee a job. So what should students concerned about their future look … in their university education?
David Helfand, president of the liberal arts institution Quest University in British Columbia, argues that we shouldn’t conflate education and training, that a university education ought to be about learning to think, not about acquiring a set of employable skills. To illustrate his point he recalls a conversation he had with Shirley Bond, B.C.’s minister for jobs, tourism and skills training. “A Quest education sounds great for some students,” he recalls her saying. “But B.C. needs 40,000 pipe fitters and you aren’t going to send them to me.” Dr. Helfand’s response: “That’s true, but we might supply the one person who can show you why you only need 10,000 pipe fitters.” The idea that learning to think, regardless of a student’s field of study, will prepare them for the real world may be difficult for young people to swallow while coping with anxiety about their future. But a new survey of 30,000 college and university graduates published by Gallup and Purdue University contains quantitative ammunition in support of Dr. Helfand’s assertion that education is about something more fundamental than gaining skills for a job.
Gallup, the large American polling company, started looking into what made workers productive decades ago. By conducting multiple surveys internationally, Gallup learned that people are more likely to be successful at work when they have great lives. As Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, explains, the research pointed to five elements of a great life: purpose and motivation, strong social relationships, secure financial circumstances, living in a supportive community and good health.
And so Gallup set out to figure out what sort of education would increase people’s chances of having great lives and, by extension, great careers. Mr. Busteed argues that looking at well-being offers a much more valuable view of the outcomes of higher education than simply considering employment and income.
One of the most interesting results was what didn’t have an impact: the prestige of the university. As it turns out, highly selective schools performed the same on the survey as accessible ones. What had a big impact was the sort of education that a student received. The most important factor was whether a student felt “emotionally supported” during their undergraduate education. For graduates who reported that they had at least one professor, who made them excited about learning, cared about them and provided mentorship as they pursued their goals, their chances of thriving in their personal life and being engaged in their work more than doubled.
Another key finding was that graduates who reported having “experiential or deep learning” were twice as likely to be engaged in work. The survey defined this sort of learning as doing a long-term project that took a semester or more to complete, experiencing an internship or being extremely involved in extracurricular activities.
These insights are interesting in light of multiple surveys in which employers complain that they struggle to recruit employees with so-called “soft skills:” the ability to effectively collaborate, communicate, problem solve and so on. Students who complete a co-op, community-based project, international exchange or genuine research experience in a lab (the sort of learning experiences that Gallup highlights) also have more developed soft skills.
“Employers call them the ‘soft skills’, but they aren’t soft at all; they are very hard to learn,” says university is where young people ought to be developing these skills. Everyone needs training.” The bad news is that universities still thinks students graduate are employable!! In comparison, 61 Canadian universities focused firmly on innovation in order to create a truly high quality undergraduate education that would best prepare students not only to net a great job after graduation, but also thrive in all aspects of their lives. What is Nigerian university doing apart from introducing courses in history of entrepreneurial achievers and peace without jobs for graduates who carry along low self esteem? Not proud of their intellect and will be scared to even write a letter as the assurance of the correct format is still uncertain.
While Canada’s universities still need work in helping students understand how their education, regardless of their chosen field of study, can be applied to life after school ours is a master of all
In the words of Lauren Tucker, who graduated in psychology from Brock University in spring, 2014: “The main strength of my education at Brock was that it focused on developing well-rounded students,” she said, “I not only know the material inside and out but can apply what I’ve learned to future roles.” My dear reader if you are a graduate or soon you will be one, I just hope that will be your comments!!
Textbook to pay cheque, To quote a professor of theatre arts in the University of Jos J.S ILLAH “you should remember that your education is about the money because after graduation your mother will not ask you… my son do you have more than dancing by IRINE AGUNLOYE give it to your sister ,but she will say your sister needs money for school fees and welfare” so how can graduates exchange textbook to paycheque ? Is another fundamental problematic.
CREATIVE THINKING BY UNIVERSITIES
Some universities are rising to the challenge and creating new ways for undergraduate students to think about how their education applies to life after school.
- The Arts Pedagogy and Innovation Lab at the University of Alberta is piloting a program that has arts students engaged in writing assignments that are more related to the real world than straightforward academic essays. And long essays which is a combination of abstract thoughts that do not guarantees a living.
- The University of Waterloo features entrepreneurship education through innovative programs such as its live-in community of student entrepreneurs known as Velocity.
- At the University of Windsor, the Entrepreneurial Practice and Innovation Centre offers classes on how entrepreneurship relates to students in all fields, from computing to the arts.
- At Dalhousie University, students in any major can take a minor in sustainability, which involves completing a year-long project with a community partner.
The Nigerian university commissioned (NUC) should look at the aforementioned emerging global practice rather than focusing on scraping diploma programme and ritualistic accreditation that has no effect to the quality and substance of graduates, the university administration must understand that there is no university without the student hence, every policy must centre on students, union’s demands must not conflict with students academics, and democracy should prevail because part of the fair to explore risk in later life is born out of the fear that university injects to students while in school, students cannot express their rights tell me can that student defined what is right or privileges later in life ?
So, is a Nigerian University education still the excellent route to the good life that it once was?
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