Generating more degrees not best way to intelligent economy

The extent to which farming and non-farming activities in developing countries can create decent employment remains a fertile ground for serious research.


While some African governments and churches are competing to establish universities that offer all kinds of degrees, the majority of jobs in the ballooning informal markets and small-and-medium (SME) sectors do not require a university degree.

From eMKambo’s experience, this is leading to numerous problems like an increase in the number of university graduates not fit for the local economy.

At least 60% of African informal markets and SMEs are operated by people who did not excel academically, but have mastered practical aspects of running small businesses like carpentry, welding and trading agricultural commodities. Vending is monopolised by women who did not do well academically.

On the other hand, those who succeeded academically are failing to find jobs commensurate with their qualifications as promised by the formal education system.

With knowledge being considered power, many university graduates cannot climb down to work for their peers, who were academically inferior, but are now successful practical entrepreneurs. Upsetting the social balance of power in this manner is creating social problems in many African countries. Graduates end up leaving for the diaspora.

Mismatch between jobs and qualifications

Due to the expansion of informal markets and the SME sector, the fastest growing jobs in Africa are low-skilled repetitive ones like harvesting agricultural commodities, loading, grading, packaging and marketing, which can be based on in-born traits. Such jobs being created along most agricultural value chains and adjacent non-farming spheres do not require degree-level qualifications.

In Zimbabwe, an estimated 10% of jobs in agricultural value chains like poultry and potato require a bachelor’s degree, 30% require a high school education and 60% do not require any formal qualification. This means thousands of young people gaining degrees will find themselves working in jobs that do not require a degree at all.
The mismatch between the number of young people with degrees and the number of jobs requiring degrees is creating a generation of bored employees who do not find meaning in what they are doing.

eMKambo has witnessed how very few young people with degree-level education are willing to take lower-skilled jobs like trading agricultural commodities in informal markets.

A young man, who graduated with a degree in nutrition science, told eMKambo that after eight years teaching biology at a secondary school, he constantly wonders when he will do a job for which he earned his qualification and start contributing meaningfully to the economy.

Digitisation has also started contributing to the decline of knowledge-intensive jobs in sectors like banking. For instance, Zimbabwe’s banking sector has lost more than 3 000 jobs in the past two years following a tight embrace of digital finance.

This means thousands of students enrolling to study banking and finance in several universities find themselves doing jobs that have nothing to do with their studies after graduating.

Alternative ways of creating intelligent economies

In the current scenario, building more universities and encouraging more young people to study for degrees without availing opportunities for employment creation may not be the smartest thing to do because it means educating more people for jobs that do not exist. This increases frustration among the youth when they fail to harvest fruits from their intellectual capabilities.

As if that is not enough, these students will not be able to pay back resources that were used by their parents to send them to school. Building universities and generating more degrees is not the best way of creating an intelligent economy.

Many graduates end up joining partisan politics or getting sucked into the bandwagon of Pentecostal churches, which preach the gospel of prosperity and nudge young people to sell salvation as if it’s a tangible commodity.

The notion of a knowledge economy is not about increasing the number of people with university degrees.

Instead of building more universities that issue endless degrees, African governments should carefully study their economies, informal markets and SMEs. They can learn from how these self-organised institutions cultivate a fully engaged, high performing workforce through collaborative and self-directed learning.

Instead of creating training courses spread over years, African universities should build learning platforms anchored on fluid curricular from where people can pull learning as they require it. Instead of focusing on events, they should support learning processes.

Generating resilient communities through decent employment

The resilience of a community can be visible through the quality and number of jobs. Development agents, governments and universities should give young people the tools to understand and create the future for themselves and their communities.

Investments by development organisations should eventually lead to business partnerships between local people and business people from countries that fund development activities.

That is more resilient than building assets like dams and roads which, due to lack of knowledge, are not used optimally to lift people out of poverty.

Development organisations that are supporting resilience building projects in rural African communities should complete entire value chains unlike just establishing community assets like dams, roads and irrigation systems without looking at how these efforts translate to better jobs and income.

Establishing universities is far from being a solution. Considering the nature of local economies, a better way of transferring meaningful knowledge is establishing knowledge and service centres at community level.

In almost every African country, less than 30% of young people go to colleges and universities. The remaining 70% should explore opportunities at local knowledge and service centres where their skills can be honed into efficient, transporters, traders, processors and diverse forms of artisanship which do not require a whole degree.

1 Comment

  1. Most Africans make the conceptual and practical mistakes that the writer is presenting here. They think that earning a degree means that you should work in the field you studied at university. The truth is that a university degree only shows that you are a pliable, potentially versatile, trainable character who can be moulded and shaped into any kind of worker. This is the reason why Europeans will come to study indigenous languages and religious knowledge forms and practices here on the African continent. When they get back to Europe they are treated as exceptional intelligent academics who are given hefty posts in all sorts of enterprise areas. Many people with a vast array of degrees in many fields are film actors, when the writer’s logic would suggest that it is not necessary to have a university qualification to engage in drama or acting.
    The problem with Africans is that colonialism schooled them to be job-seekers and not job and wealth creators. They think someone should create work for them. They don’t want to own companies. They love being employees in a company owned by someone else.
    What is needed is an education that also imparts initiative, creativity, resourcefulness, innovative adventure, thinking out of and without a box, and the capacity to view the non-academic out-of-school environment as a challenge which needs to be tackled head-on by each person and not to be viewed as a failure by someone somewhere to provide working space for those exiting educational institutions. A higher academic qualification should equip one with the ability to conceive and perceive more possibilities and options for oneself and one’s society and country. The problem is that the writer and many Africans want to live for now; hence the emphasis on abandoning higher training if jobs cannot be located for now and for today. In Europe and the United States primary school teachers can have university degrees in every field, and even ph.d’s, whereas here those who minimally passed ordinary level with only five subjects are expected to impart knowledge of every subject at primary level to our kids, including subjects which they failed at school or did not even study in their own schooling.
    People are in a hurry to make money too quickly and that is the reason why they cannot wait to create work in their own countries but are quick to run into the diaspora or to pentecostalism in the vain hope of getting quick money too quickly. Such people cannot engage in selling wares because they want a guaranteed income at the end of the day or month, whereas enterprising work means that sometimes you can make a loss at the end of a specified period of time. When they leave for elsewhere out of their own countries, they do anything including sweeping, cleaning toilets and many other things that they don’t want to do at home because there the important thing is to be able to survive.

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