Post-graduate studies: When is the best time to upgrade?

Over 8,500 students graduated from the six colleges of University of Rwanda last Friday. While many are expected to contest for employment within various institutions, others have their minds already made up to proceed with post-graduate studies as soon as possible.
Graduands celebrate during the University of Rwanda graduation ceremony held in Kigali last Friday. / File photo.
Graduands celebrate during the University of Rwanda graduation ceremony held in Kigali last Friday. / File photo.

Over 8,500 students graduated from the six colleges of University of Rwanda last Friday. While many are expected to contest for employment within various institutions, others have their minds already made up to proceed with post-graduate studies as soon as possible.

This practice is growing nowadays because a huge section of the public believes that the first degree is no longer enough to land one a good job. Many believe that a post-graduate qualification comes with lucrative wages and is a key requirement for the competitive job market. But is it the right approach anyway?

 

According to Dr Abdallah Baguma, the acting director of Academic Quality at the Higher Education Council, one is free to enroll for a masters or PhD programme on condition that they are eligible and have the financial means to support the scheme.

 

“The bottom line here should be the career. It is like finishing high school where some take on the option of technical and vocational education, a short course or enrolling for a degree course at the university. All decisions can be beneficial if course of study chosen corresponds with the targets,” he explains.

 

Although many students switch courses at different levels to leverage their chances on the competitive job market, Baguma warns that this is unlikely to contribute to the professional expertise required by most organisations.

“For instance, when someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in arts applies for a master’s in development studies or business administration, he or she may not be fit to qualify for a position that seeks for an expert in education. These are issues individuals who want to proceed with post-graduate studies need to be aware of,” adds Baguma.

Dr Wilson Cheruiyot, the Kigali campus director of Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, however, thinks that gaining experience after the first course should be the first priority for undergraduates before enrolling for further studies.

“There is no need for rush. You need this job to determine the course you take on next. In such a situation, the market will determine the career and the specialisation you want to focus on,” he says.

Like Cheruiyot, Dr Marvin Mbassana, a lecturer of economics at the University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics, believes that proper work experience enables students develop in certain areas without which many fall for inept disciplines during post-graduate studies.

“You need to weigh out what next after your master’s degree. This is the same reason why people without enough work experience make wrong postgraduate choices. On the contrary, spending a few years working before going for an additional degree clears such challenges,” says Dr Mbassana.

A concern for unemployment and underemployment

As many enroll for these post-graduate studies, the impression is that they will automatically land jobs fast with fat wages. Unfortunately, most people feel that this is no longer the case because most employers stipulate a minimum duration of work experience before considering any recruitment.

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A student in a carpentry class at the IPRC workshop in Kicukiro. Experts advise that fresh graduates are better off gaining some working experience before pursuing higher studies. / File photo.

“Most adverts for post-graduate job openings require five years and more of experience, and clearly if you proceed straight away after your undergraduate course, there is no way you will have such experience,” explains, Clarissa Umurerwa a businesswoman in Gisozi, Kigali.

She adds that other post-graduate degree holders usually find themselves in a dilemma because they are considered overqualified for the available job opportunities.

“Those who get jobs without any challenges are lucky, but some organisations have a tendency of paying post-graduate holders similar salaries as undergraduate degree holders,” says Umurerwa.

Robert Mutabazi, a parent in Kimisagara, Kigali, echoes similar views saying that after failing to find jobs in a competitive market, many post graduate degree holders find themselves on bended knees for employers to allow them earn a paltry wage for undergraduate job seekers.

“For instance, a friend of mine with a master’s in business administration who did not want to spend a lot of time on the street looking for job went for a tutoring position that provides a salary way below his qualifications,” he explains.

Statistics

Currently, unemployment for college graduates stands at 13.5 per cent, according to National Institute of Statistics Rwanda.

However, various studies have indicated that most individuals with a post-graduate qualification are facing problems of both unemployment and underemployment.

A study by Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities that was released last year indicates that close to 45.6 per cent of master degree holders are underemployed.

The research commissioned by the Higher Education Council in 2014 estimates that 32.9 per cent of bachelor degree holders earn between Rwf170,000 and Rwf349,999, which is the same monthly wage range for some master’s degree holders.

Using 2,298 higher learning institution graduates (1,505 males, 793 females), 239 employers from Kigali, Southern, Western, Northern and Eastern provinces, the report also attributes under-employment and unemployment to lack of sufficient skills for job placement.

Dr Baguma clarifies that without the required skills, post-graduate studies may not guarantee high wages.

“At all times, hiring managers tend to focus on skills. For whatever choice of career, individuals need to exhibit the necessary abilities for a particular opening,” he explains.

Delay could affect motivation

Some people argue that as students spend more time out of school, motivation for further studies drops, the reason many choose to proceed immediately.

Dr Mbassana warns that individuals need not necessarily spend more time out of school to avoid interruptions from intense work schedules which result into loss of drive for academics.

“There many constraints that may not allow many to immediately continue with postgraduate studies, but the challenge is once people start becoming more dedicated to their families and work, they lose morale in books,” warns Dr Mbassana.

While post-graduate studies improve one’s knowledge, most studies show that there is limited linkage between higher levels of academics and employee performance. These demystify the notion that a postgraduate degree results into a good job and salary.

In fact most firms around the world are resorting to hiring individuals with minimum academic qualifications because of their skills.

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STUDENTS HAVE THEIR SAY

Angie Ingabire, a student at Mt Kenya University
Although it’s a big challenge securing a job for degree holders, I will try hard to secure one soon after graduation. This is because I would first like to support my family. However, I wouldn’t mind going for a masters degree if I got sponsorship.

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Venuste Munyeshyaka, a fresh graduate in education
In my career, one can always go for higher education while teaching, which is an advantage to me. In order to stay competitive, I will first work for some time before going for a masters degree. What matters is the knowledge and skills; higher education only boosts your CV.

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Obed Niyezimana, an entrepreneurship student, University of Rwanda
The fact that I would like to become an entrepreneur in future will push me to put more effort in looking for a job after my degree course. I wouldn’t like to spend more time pursuing a masters degree while I have nowhere to generate income.

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Marie Uwihoreye, a first year student at University of Rwanda
I would prefer to first get a job so that I gain some experience of three to four years. This is because most of the jobs being advertised require one to have some experience in certain fields. In addition, being passionate about one’s career makes people want to continue with further studies so that they can explore more.

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Emmanuel Hakurimana, a finalist
I believe everyone’s dream is to pursue higher education so as to land a better job. The only problem is that it requires a lot of investment which some of us are unable to afford. But above all, it depends on what one wants in life.

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