A university degree for financial independence and today's reality

Everyone wants to have a wonderful job and financial independence. A university degree used to guarantee it and a degree ensured your status in society. Not today.

Everyone wants to have a wonderful job and financial independence. A university degree used to guarantee it and a degree ensured your status in society. Not today.

Some years back my neighbour was an Iranian lady who had just obtained a masters degree in economics from a prestigious university and was working as a waitress.

When I asked her why she was working as a waitress, albeit at a celebrated restaurant, she told me it was because she was making more money than her professor.

It is not only in Nigeria where postgraduate degree holders drive buses to earn a living. I also know Ugandans doing manual jobs in London because they know of thousands of graduates back home that have been on the streets for years looking for jobs – any job.

In Kenya graduates compete for the same manual jobs with school dropouts and in most cases it is the school dropouts who get hired – they possess a better attitude for the jobs which gives them an advantage.

Early this year I trained employees of the Volcano and Nyungwe National Parks in customer care and last month gave customer care training for conductors of a bus company. I was amazed to discover that a number of guides in the national parks possess university degrees and that out of the 45 bus conductors many were graduates. That’s right – university graduates working as park guides and bus conductors.

While not entirely unexpected, this discovery has altered my view of our situation and our mindset towards education for white-collar employment for that is what almost every student and parent looks forward to.

The point of this article is simply to underline today’s reality for those whose principal reason to attain university qualifications is in order to obtain a well paying white-collar job and in particular for the parents whose thinking is still biased towards the traditional values of education.

While the value of university education to the individual and to a country is not disputable, a degree no longer guarantees one a decent job and a comfortable life as it used to be some 30 years ago and beyond.

Unfortunately, while economic and social situations continue to change, in most developing countries education has not transformed to accommodate these changes. Our education curriculum and philosophy is still designed to prepare our youth for employment as opposed to preparing them to THINK how to be self employed and to create employment.

In my customer care classes I always emphasise the role and importance of customer care in business and governance and a common and very relevant concern from participants is why customer care isn’t taught in high school as this would start preparing students at an early age to develop a business mindset.

In most developed countries financial literacy and business are taught at high school level which helps students develop the right mindset for creating self employment.

Every year we produce more graduates than the economy can absorb resulting in higher unemployment rates – a worldwide phenomenon. We need to adapt our education philosophy and curriculum right from high school to the university to align it with national employment requirements and especially with the job market demand. We have thousands who graduate every year with qualifications that are of little significance to employers.

Employers look for skills more than general knowledge and this is why we should be focusing on developing more high level TVETs than universities.

We also need to formulate strategies and create environment that encourages creativity and innovation while targeting the youth. Sadly, there is little that the private sector is doing to promote creativity and innovation.

Both the government and private sector should invest more in joint research and development (R&D) programmes as it is the foundation for creative and innovative ideas.

The need for the government to widen the tax base and collect as much revenue as it can is understandable and indeed should be supported by every patriotic citizen.

However, the tax regime should also be designed in such a way as to support the growth of a vibrant SMEs sector as this would result in the creation of thousands of jobs.

Turkey and Brazil have tax regimes that are designed purposely to support SMEs in order to create jobs. A vibrant SMEs sector creates a middles class which is currently very small. It is the middle class that brings political stability, spurs more growth and is able to pay taxes, thus increasing national revenue.

The trend is such that graduating students will continue to face challenges getting white-collar jobs. Failure to get a white collar job should actually provoke one to think out of the box.

Two years ago, a young man returned from abroad with a master’s degree. Six months later he still had no job.

The disappointment was the catalyst he needed. He borrowed one million Rwandan francs from an understanding uncle, used it to buy and sell pigs and today his pig business is booming.

He is certainly more financially independent than the guy sitting in a swaying chair in a public office. Working hard, patience and an individual vision is what will ultimately give you financial independence.