What you need to know:
- Students leaving high school have no clue how to select courses that are in line with their grades, yet this forms the basis of placement to university.
- The result is that students end up enduring four years or more of studying courses that are not in line with their interests, and gaining skills that may not be in high demand in the current job market.
A disturbingly high number of university students end up taking courses they did not apply for, and which they have no interest. Many are forced to settle for courses they had put down as third choices at the time of selection.
Related to this is an information gap. Students leaving high school have no clue how to select courses that are in line with their grades, yet this forms the basis of placement to university. The result is that students end up enduring four years or more of studying courses that are not in line with their interests, and gaining skills that may not be in high demand in the current job market.
Most times, it is only after graduation that students become aware of the gross mismatch between their academic capabilities and the skills required in the labour market. All this comes together to fuel the already ballooning unemployment rates in Kenya.
According to data released by Kenya Bureau of Statistics in the year 2020, youth aged between 20 and 29 accounted for the unemployment rate which stands at 32.4 per cent. These are either university students, or recent graduates.
Further, a 2018 survey by the Kenya Federation of Employers noted with great consternation how 64 per cent of university graduates lacked skills required by employers. These skills include critical thinking, analytical abilities, creativity, teamwork, communication, and writing skills.
So, where does the blame lie? Is it with the university placement bodies, the universities, or the students themselves?
We had a chat with five graduates who feel convinced that they picked the wrong courses.
Linda Jepkemoi Korir, 25
Basic Science graduate from Maseno University
Growing up, I had dreams of becoming a dentist. I was scared by the sight of blood, but I was determined to live my dream of fixing teeth problems. I passed my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams and was keen on selecting a course in dental surgery. The university placement body, Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS), had two phases of selection. I missed out on the first selection but upon reselecting courses, the unthinkable happened.
I was selected for a basic science course at Maseno University. I graciously accepted but when it was time to look for industrial attachment, I realised that I had taken a wrong gamble by selecting this course.
I struggled to find a company where I could put my academic knowledge to practice. Eventually, it took the help of a friends and family members for me to get an internship position.
It has now been two years after graduation, and I am yet to find a job. The work I am doing now is totally unrelated with what I studied diligently for four good years. I work with a recruitment agency as HR personnel. Only a handful of my course mates have found jobs in the field. Basic science is a practical course and it would have been better if, during the course, we had been linked or attached to industries such as Kemri and Kebs. That way we would have found it easier to find jobs and even internship positions as lab technicians. Instead, we were just confined to the school’s laboratories.
I think the job market is currently flooded and bursting at the seams. I doubt there is a course that can fully guarantee you a job. There are very few opportunities available, and only those who know the right people can easily find them. Universities should restructure their programmes to suit the current and future job market. Courses that are not market driven should be scrapped.
Erick Ochieng, 25
General Arts student, Maseno University
I lacked guidance. I didn’t have access to a career coach or anyone to give me sound professional advice on which course to select after Form Four.
Of the courses I had selected, general arts featured nowhere. I had a passion for international relations and diplomacy, a dream that has now been deferred and killed because I have been pursuing this general arts course. The private institution offering the programme by the time I applied was not sponsoring government students.
For the first two months after being admitted to the general arts course, I sulked the whole time. I was so low on morale. I didn’t have any drive to study. I initiated an inter-faculty transfer to join the University’s International Relations cohort, but I was unsuccessful.
In the course of my studies, I was wrongly advised that with a degree in general arts, I could specialise in any field.
I concentrated in literature and linguistics, but I found out that the course was just too general. Yet I was tied to it. I stuck to my studies in English and linguistics, but whenever I ask for teaching jobs, most schools fault me saying I don’t have a degree in education.
Most people, including the students themselves, don’t understand the general arts course. They perceive it as just an easy programme that doesn’t even require internship. I finished my course work in 2021 but I am currently unemployed. I write books and poems to keep busy since I am passionate about literature.
I hope to graduate and enroll in a Master’s degree either in linguistics or literature so that I can get competitive advantage. I feel like some courses are just a waste of time and should be modified to suit the current demand in the job market.
Nelson Agunyo, 24
Community Health graduate from JKUAT
After attaining an A- in KCSE, I thought I would easily gain admission to a renowned university to begin studies in my dream career: Medicine and surgery. However, the placement body, KUCCPS, required much higher cluster points for one to earn selection to this course.
Sadly, I didn’t make the cut off grade, and this killed my ambition of becoming a doctor.
I was shocked and surprised to realise that Public Health, the course I studied for many years, was not so lucrative. I quickly found out that most employers preferred graduates of community health. More frustrating was the realisation that even a social arts graduate was better placed to find opportunities than I was. Worse, the umbrella body that takes care of the welfare of community health practitioners was not that strong, therefore it was unable to support members in getting benefits such as internships.
My efforts to find a job were unsuccessful, and this forced me to volunteer at a non-governmental organisation for a year. After that I quit, and returned home. The opportunities available are so scarce. Whenever a job position is advertised, hundreds of applicants express interest, including arts and science graduates. I find myself fighting for the same position with graduates of other courses.
Most jobs are to be found at the county government level, and the hiring officers there prefer diploma graduates since they can accept less pay than degree graduates for the same work.
I think universities should stop reproducing the same mundane courses using different names. There is no point in having tens of programmes in a faculty yet the course content is more or less the same.
I also don’t understand why they never invite prospective employers to shed more light on how to enrich the courses and tailor make them for the current job market.
For instance, there was so much theory in my course. We didn’t learn any entrepreneurial skills that could prepare us for self-employment. I am willing to try and establish a non-governmental organisation, but that would be so expensive. The best I can I do with this degree is humanitarian work, but I have no financial ability to execute that.
I am jobless at the moment. If I would get a sponsorship, I would certainly pursue another course such as law or medicine.
Social Work Graduate, Moi University
I joined university about nine years ago. I wanted to be a medic. That was my dream. However, I had to find another alternative since I had not attained the required points.
My second choice was law, but still I wasn’t picked for this course due to high competition. I was left to choose among the remaining courses.
At that time, I didn’t care much about the course. I was only keen on gaining admission to university. Studying medicine as a self-sponsored student wasn’t an option given the background I hailed from.
I fault the system. I think students should be placed in courses they are interested in. Also, there is a huge gap in information. Form Four leavers rarely get any guidance on the career prospects that are in line with their grades, strengths and the job market. Cases of college dropouts is high largely due to this.
Personally, I had zero knowledge on what a Bachelor of Arts in social work entailed. I had to do loads of research to understand its content, and the jobs available in this field.
Although it was not the course I wanted, I was lucky to find work as a community engagement and child protection officer. Over time, I have developed interest in this field. In fact, I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in sociology.
I found the course content to be too theoretical. The only time I had an opportunity to learn practical skills was when I went for attachment, and that was after fourth year. There is need to find a balance between theory and practicals.
Economics graduate, Kenyatta University
For me, I was forced to contend with what was left. Most courses were assigned based on cluster points we posted in the KCSE results. High performing students who scored grade A were placed in good courses, and those who scored grade B were placed in the remaining courses.
My dream was to study electrical engineering, but I had to settle for economics. I had no one to guide me on how to go about the selection process. I had attained the required points for an engineering programme so I tried changing courses in the university I had been called to but the process was really hectic.
I have come to realise with great disappointment after graduating that there are very few entry level job offers in the field of economics. The available opportunities require one to have prior experience.
In developed countries like United Kingdom, as early as the third year of studies, students begin learning the practical aspects of the course, thereby gaining experience. Here in Kenya, theory work takes precedence.
Additionally, universities don’t really care about their graduates and that’s why we have many courses which are irrelevant. They are just in the business of churning out graduates. I would advise a high school leaver who is looking to join college to shelve that ambition and join the nearest TVET institution. I think the demand for white collar jobs is extremely high, so those with vocational skills have a slight advantage.