Curriculum change – A solution to graduate unemployment

Announcing a review of university curricula aimed at addressing graduate employability in Nigeria, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), said last month the government was concerned about complaints by industry employers that the country’s graduates were “unemployable”. How did the country reach this point?

According to Dr Toyin Enikuomehin, a lecturer in artificial intelligence in the computer science department of Lagos State University, the problem has its roots in outdated curricula and a system slow to transform.

“The current university syllabus has its origin in the 18th century industrial revolution propelled by the emergence of general sciences and electricity from coal. Globally, these tendencies were faithfully adhered to in the 20th century. The recent advent of alternative sources of energy, especially from the sun and the wind, coupled with electronically-propelled communication technology, has compelled universities to gradually see the need to adapt their curricula to the needs of industries”.

Enikuomehin said while universities in advanced industrialised countries quickly adjusted their curricula and continued to get grants and financial support from industry for their research, tertiary institutions in underdeveloped countries, including Nigeria, still cling to the old curricula.

Demands of industry

“It is now that the NUC is realising the imperative to innovate and adapt university programmes to satisfy the demands of industries and other stakeholders,” he said. “With the current outdated curricula, our universities would continue to churn out unemployable graduates."

An in-depth feature on graduate unemployment in Nigeria was published in the Daily Trust newspaper last year following a study conducted by a group of journalists involving several months of field investigations on the subject.

Illustrating the scale of the problem, the study said: “Ongoing recruitment by the Federal Road Service Commission shows up the scale of unemployment in Nigeria. The commission has 4,000 job slots to fill. Some 324,000 shortlisted applicants showed up for recruitment, 105,000 of them graduates, scampering for positions as inspectors and road marshal assistants.”

According to one of the study’s journalists, Maureen Onochie, the graduate applicants were of diverse academic orientations. “Most of them did not study transport as an academic discipline … I found that the majority of candidates were desperately in search of jobs with a view to taking care of themselves and members of their extended families,” she said.

Another study by Dr Longe Olukayode from the department of sociology at Ekiti State University, which was published in the American International Journal of Contemporary Research in 2017, noted that “the nation cannot reasonably achieve her developmental aspirations if she cannot effectively put to productive use a large number of her graduates”.

Economic diversification

To address the issue, Olukayode called for a government reappraisal of public policies and programmes designed to generate economic opportunities capable of creating jobs for the unemployed graduates. He also recommended that diversification of the economy be pursued.

On the role of universities in solving graduate unemployment, he called for “pedagogical changes and the reconfiguration of the curricula to focus on both skills and knowledge acquisition".

“Effective partnership between industry and the university must be put in place to produce developmentally-oriented curricula for employment fulfilment and market suitability. The universities in Nigeria must be equipped and made to play a pivotal role in capacity building and leadership training in order to produce functional graduates for employment suitability,” he said.

He stressed the importance of giving priority to the development of agriculture, agro-allied industry and rural transformation so as to reduce migration to urban areas for job-hunting.

Vocational education

Another cause of graduate unemployment, particularly in Africa, has been identified as the disconnect between formal education and vocational training. As the country experiences a glut of university graduates in the labour market, there is simultaneously a shortage of skills in the vocational sector. This imbalance creates social tension and requires attention.

In some countries such as Germany and South Korea, the distinction between university education and vocational training is more blurred, partly in recognition of the fact that the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution require both formal education and vocational training; in order words, a marriage between the hand and the head.

Earlier this month, it was reported by Punch that 35,000 young Nigerian adults will benefit from a €19.2 million (US$21.4 million) German-funded skills acquisition programme in the construction and agricultural sectors.

Head of Skills Development for Youth Employment in Nigeria, Hans-Ludwig Bruns, was quoted as saying that one of the obstacles facing the development of employment potential in sectors such as agriculture and construction was the lack of adequately qualified manpower.

“According to him, a major reason for this lies in the poor quality of curricula, teacher-training and equipment in the technical and vocational education and training system,” said the report.

According to sources close to the NUC, the funding from Germany has two major objectives: to ensure that about 35,000 Nigerian students acquire the vocational skills urgently needed in Nigerian industries; and to dissuade young people from any attempt at migrating to Europe where employment opportunities are almost non-existent for migrant workers.

How will the curriculum review work?

Under the chairmanship of former NUC executive secretary Professor Peter Okebukola, the committee, inaugurated on 20 February, is made up of vice-chancellors and directors of academic planning from both public and private universities, as well as directors of multinational companies and local Nigerian firms. It is expected to submit its findings in December 2019.

According to a source close to the committee, communication and information experts have been deliberately included to advise on IT training as the plan is to extend IT-based vocational centres across the campuses and beyond the faculties of engineering where they are currently domiciled.

Two delegations are to be sent to Germany and South Korea for a month to understudy how public and private companies collaborate with academics in the creation of university curricula.

A special stakeholders meeting is scheduled for mid-December during which new curricula will be fashioned on the basis of the technical report.