Government, parents complicit in creating useless graduates

Brian Sedze

guest column: Brian Sedze

Government and parents are delinquently complicity in allowing our young people to pursue tertiary level qualifications that offer no value to either the country or to the graduate. The pursuit of academic paper will lead to a future class of useless graduates.

It is utterly incomprehensible and inconceivable that a people can collectively connive to be irresponsible and cruel to young people by wasting their time, energy and other resources in pursuit of not so useful education.

It is dereliction of duty by parents, government and higher education institutions to force feed the young to study and obtain pieces of tertiary education papers of no value to either themselves or the world.

For most parents, such a waste of their financial resources is often driven by societal pressure to tick boxes and obtain temporary pride of a child in university. Unfortunately, the truth is the mother of time, as reality often manifests in a nil return on the financial investment.

As a country we may as well just hold on to the fable that we comparatively have a highly educated and literate population in Africa. This narrative though has nothing to do with a desired future of full employment. Even if the narrative were true it is a pointer that an education system paradigm shift is required continent wide.

I think some of our young people, outside a miracle, will never find use of their education. We already have a lot of 90s graduates unemployed, a significant number of them under employed and some are reluctant enterprenuers. It will be irresponsible to perpetuate such cruelty.

Our education system needs a complete overhaul to be of relevance for the future.The economic challenges aside, there has been an oversupply of graduates holding useless pieces of paper.

The strategic intention of an education system should be to cover present country competence/skills gaps, match or exceed national strategic intentions, propel socio-economic needs and propagate an innovation or business ecosystem.

An education strategy should also be alive to globalisation of everything, including labour. Our competitors for labour are now products of an education system of diverse countries, continents and often borderless institutions.

Industries often locate near the labour factor of production. Competitive and relevant educational output is, therefore, an imperative for a country’s socio-economic health. It attracts capital.

Education must incubate future global leaders with fibre to think of new innovative solutions and possibly disrupt the present industrial complex.

We seem to be deploying a haphazard approach to what should be important. What is important is to decipher our educational needs. Government must have the decency of undertaking a needs and skills gap analysis.

As a start, the country’s universities should be centres for propagation of innovation start–up ecosystem, capacitate research, start innovation funnels, value-add minerals, partner diaspora and international experts, invest in technology transfer and partner capital.

Professors at great universities are sponsored by international brands due to the value universities bring to industry and commerce. This value is new truths and new solutions. I doubt capital will partner institutions that promote regurgitation and memorising of theories and old truths.

There is an urgent need to abandon a lot of academic programmes, curtail numbers in some and outright closure of some institutions. We should not propagate universities whose output neither the world nor the country nor a society nor the individual will ever use.

The education budgets seem driven at building physical infrastructure instead of developing an ecosystem for value creation. Investment in education should inspire creative thinking to solve challenges in our midst, aspire to provide new solutions to the world, ensure creation of demand and develop products and or services the world never knew would be required.

Instead of raising neurotics, who memorise facts and theories, it is more valuable to teach capacity to challenge the theories and search for new universal truths.

It’s a little unfortunate that we tend to politicise everything. Part of the solution matrix that could have ensured propagation of education for innovation, value creation and entrepreneurship was in deliberate promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s unfortunate that due to political expediency they threw out, not only the politician, but also the programme.

Our government-known public policy goal is job creation and in trying to achieve that goal, it is deliberately promoting the existing industrial complex.Unfortunately, for the industrialist productivity and competitiveness instead of creation of jobs, is their measure of economic success. In fact, job creation is not a motivation for capitalists.

The industrialist’s quest for efficiency and productivity will drive investments in automation, artificial intelligence and robotics. The drive will accelerate skills shift and loss of jobs. In fact, widespread job destruction is a strategic goal for any capitalist because jobs are a price (not a benefit) of a factor of production. Labour is an avoidable cost of production.

Government itself should not prevent job losses as it means giving up immense and lucrative opportunities that come with them. Instead, government should be an enabler in educating its citizens’ right so as to exploit the opportunities that come with such seismic changes.

Unlike during the Industrial Revolution, where for every job lost to machines, at least at one more job was created. This time, we are facing a different challenge.

As Yuval Noah Harari said: “ We might have the worst of both worlds that is, suffering from massive unemployment and at the same time having a shortage of skilled labour.”

The new revolution and disruption of artificial intelligence and robotics will create new skills requirements and or increase demand for some presently out of demand qualifications.

At the same time some skills will become redundant and extinct. Some skills will be required in limited quantities. So we may face both unemployment and shortage of skills at the same time.

Our education system seems regurgitating the same output irrespective of the challenges that automation and artificial intelligence will pose. Government should disrupt the present education model so that the new is able to speak to skills shifts, job losses, need to retrain, and shortage of skilled labour and to curb future unemployment.

Zimbabwe aspires to be a middle-income economy by 2030. The industrial complex of 2030 will be led by firms without land, mines, infrastructure (like hotels and classrooms), among many physical resources.

In our favourite primary industries of agriculture and mining the fast company predict labour displacement from semi-skilled to skilled labour. The skills shift will be due to use of machines with cognitive skills that may replace routine decision-making jobs.

If the country’s is to be competitive to drive the 2030 agenda it has to preserve workers’ economic value and relevance. To do this, there is need for investment in providing a foundation for skills transition and re-education.

Without such an investment the government (read taxpayer) will have to be content with a welfare state and provision of economic safety nets for the unemployed.

The country graduates and potential labour force face an additional challenge of globalised labour with the attendant opening up of labour markets. The country’s education output may have to be content with competing with the world.

To ensure our young people have a chance on the labour market a whole lot of painful change in both content (quality) and quantity of output is an imperative. It should be a strategic focus to ensure we have graduates that compete at all levels.

The starting point could benchmark with best practice, co-operation and competing with peers and deploying strategies to leapfrog peers in areas the country has a competitive advantage.

To add more value to the country’s education output and ecosystem, a deliberate and tailor-made diaspora skills attraction policy is imperative.

Expatriate attraction and retention schemes are also required. If we provide peanuts, let’s expect baboons to work. Expertise is expensive and highly internationalised.

Without doubt in the medium-term the country will not need thousands of educated graduates with unwanted and or unusable skills. The country won’t need thousands of accountants, economists, social scientists, historians, political and development scientists, cultural and heritage practitioners, marketing practitioners and so forth. The country is oversupplying labour when there is limited or no future demand.

We need a national strategy and resource redeployment to build good and relevant education that teaches new skills. Sooner than later the government will not be able to socially sustain a large number of unemployed citizens. People will always have a quest for meaning and this may mean a quest for jobs.