Education can unlock doors that no other entity can.
This is what many people have discovered in the East African region. This can be seen through the number of universities that have come up in the region in recent years.
What is the reason behind all this? Well, one of the reasons is because of the premium that employers put on employing graduates with university degrees.
Maria-Regina Namyalo is a Ugandan lady, who has been working for more than twenty years. After high school, she trained as an electronics technician and earned a trade certificate for that. She has worked for a number of public and private organizations.
Recently, she has had to go back to school just so that she can get a university degree.
Maria is currently a student at the African Bible University (ABU) in Kampala, Uganda, where she is undertaking a degree course in Biblical Studies and Communication.
She believes that this will enhance her chances of getting a better job with more pay. Most recently, Maria was employed as a sergeant in the Ugandan Army, where she served for ten years. She says that compared to her friends who had university degrees, starting work at technician level did not pay well.
“People have been moving from one job to the other, basically because of pay,” she says. “They go back to school to study so that they can get a higher qualification and get a better paying job.”
What is happening in Uganda is no different from what is happening in Kenya and Tanzania. The last ten years have seen the mushrooming of private universities in the countries, adding to the public universities that are already existing.
In the East African region today, many men and women who have been working are now going back to universities, so that they can acquire a university degree and increase their bargaining power with employers.
In Uganda, there are more than 20 universities (both public and private), while in Kenya, there are more or less the same number of universities. In Tanzania, there are more than 10 universities currently in operation.
Eddie Ssemakula is another young Ugandan who has had to go back to Makerere University for journalism studies. He says that he realized that having a university degree would open more doors for him professionally. He has a college diploma which he used to get his previous job.
The “crave for education,” as Maria calls it, has been necessitated by the difficult economic times that many of the residents of this region find themselves in. Maria tells me that she had to do many jobs or engage in business at some point while in employment just to supplement her income, “which was meager.”
Maria blames the state of joblessness of many young people on the kind of education offered by many tertiary institutions, which she says churn out “job-seekers rather than job creators.”
But even as many people are going back to school, the economic prospects in the region are still not good enough. Latest figures indicate that the unemployment rate in Uganda is around 72%, while in Kenya, the American Central Intelligence Agency website says that the unemployment rate was 40% by 2008. It has probably gone up by now.
Maria would like to do social work after finishing her studies at ABU. Actually, she says that she already has some “attractive” job offers but she would not like to leave her course unfinished. She is only waiting to graduate before signing her contract.
Maria’s advice to young people is to study and get a degree before looking for jobs. “In this country, without a university degree it might be very difficult to get employed,” she adds.