KIRUKU: Zombies for graduates: who is giving us these lazy fellows?

KIRUKU: Zombies for graduates: who is giving us these lazy fellows?
An illustration of graduates by Mail and Guardian.

The call by the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), Prof Alexandre Lyambabaje, for universities in the region to take a further step from publications to development of innovative products and policies has come at an opportune moment.

Institutions of higher learning have come under increasingly harsh criticism from the public for their failure to generate relevant knowledge that can address current and emerging issues in the region.

The private sector, in particular, has complained that universities are producing half-baked graduates who are neither employable nor innovative. Employers say that the typical graduate is lazy, uncreative and highly dependent – in a nutshell, a near-worthless person who cannot be relied on to serve in a fast-changing world.

But even as we blame the graduates, we must ask ourselves pertinent questions on why today’s graduate is not meeting the standards of employers.

Of course, governments carry most of the blame for the near-collapse of our institutions of higher learning. Diminishing budgetary allocations to the education sector have led to slow infrastructural development in these institutions. This has forced universities to resort to income-generating investments on the side to support their programmes. Self-sponsored and school-based programmes have been initiated not necessarily to open the doors of higher learning to more citizens, but as money-making businesses.

Some of these upcoming campuses have been in the spotlight for lack of qualified staff, insufficient infrastructure and learner-unfriendly location. They have also served to remove the key focus of universities from the development and generation of new knowledge. Indeed, even the basic aim of producing high-level manpower has been diluted, with learners bearing the brunt of poor management.

Universities must improve their infrastructure, which is generally in a dilapidated condition.  They must be able to accommodate the growing number of students seeking higher education. Infrastructural development is key towards delivering quality education.

Corruption has massively penetrated every sector of the economy – and education is no exception. There is no better evidence of this rot than the many stalled white elephant projects that dot institutions of higher learning.

It is a shame that we would expect “fully- baked” graduates while degrees for sale are rife in our institutions. The growing menace has seen increasing cases of students bribing their way to get degrees, with postgraduate students paying “researchers” in the black market to do their assignments and theses for them.

But the biggest tragedy afflicting our institutions of higher learning is a lack of commitment towards promoting and encouraging research. Some universities are prioritizing the end result of their work as publications, which of course determine staff promotions, instead of innovation and products.

But institutions must now move from over-insistence on publication and towards developing innovative products and policies which will contribute to East Africa’s socio-economic transformation. In the process, publications will become a repository of this new knowledge rather than an end in themselves.

It is sad that highly-qualified teaching staff are preferring to take up jobs in universities overseas, where the terms of service are far much better than in the region. This has affected research and supervision of postgraduate students. Governments and universities must get their act together if such staff are to be retained and those who have left encouraged to return. This will in return bring to an end the unending brain drain experienced in the region.

There has also been a silent battle between private and public universities due to the mass movement of teaching staff from the latter to the former. A dialogue between public and private universities must be embraced in working out strategies on how best to share the available human resources.

Still, governments must do more to curb the rampant cheating in examinations. This can only be done through credible examination administration. The system of education must ensure that secondary school leavers, who are the raw materials of universities, are properly prepared. University lecturers have complained of students who are so used to being “spoon-fed” that they cannot read on their own or carry out simple research.

It is now the duty of governments and development partners to ensure the myriad challenges facing our institutions are dealt with once and for all. Education is the backbone of development in any economy, and fighting illiteracy and ignorance is the responsibility of every government. The region must sufficiently invest in education if real development is to be realized and lives enriched.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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