Universities in sub-Saharan Africa must adapt to serve the growing number of students who no longer see their future in conventional salaried employment, according to a report on graduate careers in the region.
Research for the British Council shows that the region’s institutions are still providing rote learning even as graduates’ focus shifts to entrepreneurship and social enterprise.
While universities do offer employability services, including careers advice and skills development programmes, the study found that uptake was patchy and reached only a minority of students.
The study, presented on 1 June at Going Global, the British Council’s annual conference for international higher education leaders, surveyed 6,000 final-year students at a number of universities in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and carried out in-depth interviews with individuals and focus groups.
The increasing interest in self-employment was most evident in Kenya, where almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of students considered entering work of this kind, compared with a quarter in Nigeria (23 per cent), 9 per cent in Ghana and 4 per cent in South Africa.
More than one-quarter of students in Nigeria (28 per cent) planned to undertake further study after graduation; in South Africa, 27 per cent said they were interested in working in multiple sectors.
Only in Ghana did the proportion of students opting for conventional forms of public and private employment exceed 50 per cent.
However, the only employability activities undertaken by more than half of students were skills development courses in Kenya (72 per cent) – attributable to a national requirement for universities to offer entrepreneurship training – and work placements in Ghana (62 per cent), where some universities placed strong emphasis on the practice.
In South Africa and Nigeria, some one in three students engaged in work placements and a further third in voluntary work. Overall, the uptake of careers advisory services, CV writing help and opportunities for contact with employers varied widely across institutions.
The research is the second phase of a three-year project, Universities, Employability and Inclusive Development, carried out by the UCL Institute of Education in collaboration with four African institutions.
Tristan McCowan, reader in education at the UCL Institute of Education and leader of the project, said: “Without wanting to stereotype too much, we found across the universities a phenomenon of what’s sometimes called yellow notes – ancient lecture notes delivered in a very transmission-based way and assessed purely by exams.
“A real transformation does need to take place towards problem-based, critical thinking and enquiry-based forms of teaching.”
Asked to indicate the main obstacle to post-study employment, the majority of students in South Africa (53 per cent) highlighted the poor economic climate, compared with 31 per cent in Ghana, 28 per cent in Nigeria and 24 per cent in Kenya. Lack of family connections was seen as the main barrier to work by 52 per cent of respondents in Ghana, while the lack of other networks was the factor most often cited by students in Kenya (38 per cent) and Nigeria (35 per cent).
Wish you were here: report finds potential to expand UK and US study-abroad cohort
The majority of UK and US students who are not interested in overseas study, or are undecided about it, still want to travel and live abroad, according to research on outward mobility.
A study for the British Council found that of the 66 per cent of UK students and 46 per cent of US students who did not express interest in studying abroad, just 20 per cent and 24 per cent respectively said that they did not want to leave their home country.
Presenting the results at Going Global on 2 June, Zainab Malik, director of research for the British Council’s Education Intelligence research arm, said that universities have the scope to persuade more students to go overseas if they promote the benefits.
“What is incredibly interesting is that those students that said they had no interest in studying abroad perhaps do want to go overseas if they can get a fantastic academic experience,” she said.
“That says to me we need to mitigate their concerns, which are largely about cost and language, and promote the holistic experience of study abroad – the fact that it is not just about travel, but that there are professional, personal and academic outcomes.”
The study suggests that UK universities could influence students’ decisions by providing more information about programmes overseas. While 63 per cent of US students surveyed said that they were satisfied with their access to information, only 40 per cent of UK students said the same.
Asked what would encourage them to study abroad, UK students most often cited help with funding, followed by language training, overseas study being a course requirement, and information sessions from peers who had studied abroad and inspiring lectures by academics about its benefits.
“It shows students are really craving first-hand experience and a personal connection when trying to understand study abroad,” Ms Malik said.