Columnists

Universities must produce knowledgeable economy

CHRISTINE MUSHIBWE.

Analysis: CHRISTINE MUSHIBWE
THOUGH attaining a degree or diploma is envied and many students spend extra effort and cost to attain it, overwhelmingly, a good number of people believe it is not worth the cost.
They cite high unemployment figures, which include graduates. There is even a bigger percentage who say colleges and universities are not having a positive effect on society.
It is for this reason that I suspended the norm of showering University of Africa graduates at the recent fifth graduation ceremony.
I pledged to only congratulate them when they turned their qualifications into extra-ordinary careers.
My job allows me to engage with many students. Among the more than 1,000 graduates we have produced since the university was established, I know majority of them by name. For example, I know among them a student whose marriage broke down during the course of studying. I understood their resolution to give up studying. However, at the end of our discussion, they continued to study and graduated.
There is also a young man who sponsored himself doing odd basic jobs.
I am proud to say he is now a graduate today.
Others also lost a lot, through tragedies of life, including illness and death of spouses, siblings and children. And yet, despite the pain and sorrow, they graduated. They defied the odds to get their degree or diploma.
I am sure the stories of these ordinary individuals are many in other higher learning institutions, both public and private. And they do really make me proud as an educator.
However, on this recent graduation, which for the first time in the history of the university conferred Doctors’ of Philosophy degrees (PhDs) on five students, I decided to silence the champagne popping to interrogate the profound question of whether a degree or diploma is worth it.
The silence was deafening when I said: “You do not deserve my congratulations until you become inventors, entrepreneurs and creators of wealth.”
My other conditions before I could congratulate them included that they became a fountain of knowledge and innovation for upcoming generations. More succinctly, I said: “Not until you begin to provide this nation with solutions to recurring problems such as low agricultural productivity, unemployment, global warming and many other problems.”
A slight digression, but related to the same question about the value of a degree. In the United States, some sections among conservatives want to reduce the flow of government cash to what they see as elitist, politically correct institutions that often fail to provide practical skills for the job market.
To re-focus, that argument could well be valid here if students continued to go out in the world, and had no positive impact on communities.
For graduates to set themselves apart, they don’t have to sit and wait for jobs. The qualifications make them sufficiently functional to help them change their lives and many others in their communities.
And for those working in private and public sectors, the qualification is not just to help them move up the corporate ladder. Rather, they must use the qualifications to be dynamos of growth and development, leading to economic prosperity.
Put in a different way, they must act as a lever which when pulled, gushes forth tangible effects of economic prosperity.
In reality, universities, both private and public, must be part of the process of producing a successful knowledge economy. The success of universities in this process will be easy to measure by what graduates to with their qualifications.
The important point to derive from the tantalising proposition is that a higher learning qualification should be more than just of sentimental value.
The author is deputy vice chancellor and dean of students at the University of Africa.

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