Graduates beaten to jobs by dropouts, data shows

Workers apply paint on a newly built classroom in Elburgon.

Workers apply paint on a newly built classroom in Elburgon, Nakuru County on October 11, 2022. A World Bank economist says Kenyan graduates take on average five years to find employment. 

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Only slightly more than a third (34.5 per cent) of the workforce has the requisite education for the job, with 40.4 per cent undereducated and 24.9 per cent overqualified.
  • With a workforce of 47.4 per cent with the right skills for the job, Ghana is performing better than Kenya, although an almost equal number (45.1 per cent) in employment are overeducated and much fewer (12.8 per cent) undereducated.
  • The meeting of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms in Kenya at Karen last week heard that among countries with high match rates are Macedonia (72.6 per cent), Ukraine (72.1 per cent) and Georgia (66.4 per cent).

A Kenyan university graduate on average takes five years to find a job, with experts at a forum on education reforms pressed to address high unemployment rates among graduates.

Mr Pedro Cerdan-Infantes, a senior economist at the World Bank, said a long job search duration that takes “on average, five years for a university graduate to find employment in Kenya” are among bitter experiences reported by graduates in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In several countries, unemployment is higher among university graduates than those with only primary or secondary education, a likely consequence of admission policies and, Mr Pedro noted, a pointer that tertiary education and labour markets are “not doing their part”.

He explained that the tertiary education sector in the region has been weak in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as evaluating graduates’ skills, which contributes to skills mismatch (scenarios in which workers are either over-skilled/over-educated or under-skilled/under-educated for jobs).

Kenya doesn’t perform well in a country ranking by World Bank based on individual match rates between worker education and job-required education.

Only slightly more than a third (34.5 per cent) of the workforce has the requisite education for the job, with 40.4 per cent undereducated and 24.9 per cent overqualified.

“When you look at where they are employed, among the countries, Kenya is where the mismatch is the largest. We have a lot of not sufficiently educated people in the educated jobs and overly educated people in the same jobs,” Mr Pedro said in a presentation on the importance of tertiary education for productivity, growth and equity.

With a workforce of 47.4 per cent with the right skills for the job, Ghana is performing better than Kenya, although an almost equal number (45.1 per cent) in employment are overeducated and much fewer (12.8 per cent) undereducated.

The meeting of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms in Kenya at Karen last week heard that among countries with high match rates are Macedonia (72.6 per cent), Ukraine (72.1 per cent) and Georgia (66.4 per cent).

Economic complexity index

Kenya’s ranking on the economic complexity index, which measures the degree of export diversification, isn’t any better.

Countries range from little variety with a low technological level to a great variety with a high technological level.

Kenya is ranked 90, down from 78 in 2010 as compared to China (33), Mauritius (66), Singapore (5), South Africa (70) and Uganda (87).

Mr Pedro rooted for close linkages with employers, curriculum reform to produce graduates with 21st-century skills, enlisting industry professionals as visiting professors and internships.

He also called for collaborative projects to apply relevant research aimed at increasing productivity and introducing innovations in products and processes.

Prof Laban Ayiro, the vice-chancellor of Daystar University, observed that the majority (76 per cent) of graduates with secondary and tertiary-level skills lean towards humanities and social sciences.

Only less than a quarter (24 per cent) study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), a situation that should be reversed if the country is to advance technologically. 

Another reason to reform the education system, Prof Ayiro observed, is to curb the massive wastage rates at Class Eight (69 per cent) and Form Four (58 per cent).

The team, appointed by President William Ruto, heard that despite important progress, enrolment in tertiary education remains low and unequal.

At 10 per cent, tertiary education enrolment in Kenya is slightly higher than the regional average of 9.5 per cent, but significantly lower than low and middle-income economies, according to the World Bank.

The Economic Survey 2022 notes that enrolment in technical and vocational education and training institutions grew by 10.4 per cent to 498,326 in 2021, while university enrolment is expected to grow from 546,700 in 2020/21 to 562,100 in the 2021/22 academic year.

But experts warn rapid enrolment growth does not lead to improved access for under-represented groups. The inequality that bars children from poor backgrounds from accessing tertiary education should be resolved.

“A young Kenyan from the richest income group is 49 times more likely to access higher education than one from the lowest income group,” said Ms Ruth Charo from the Education Global Practice of the World Bank.

But this isn’t Kenya’s problem only since in sub-Saharan Africa, tertiary education has remained elitist.

The causes of inequity in the region include exclusion in pre-tertiary education, inequitable financial burdens, skewed admission policies and discriminatory public subsidies.

Financial aid

To improve access and promote equity, experts have been challenged to explore strategies that provide equal opportunities through a combination of financial aid (scholarships and loans) and non-monetary measures (outreach, affirmative action and retention).

Another strategy is to accelerate enrolment through institutional differentiation (non-university institutions, online programmes and the role of private providers). However, the expansion should not compromise on the quality of teaching.

The team was told the rapid growth of universities had not been supported with enough qualified staff.

As a result, student-teacher ratios have increased in public universities, reaching 70:1 in some. In addition, academic practices continue to be very traditional in many tertiary education institutions. 

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