University education and job market | Daily News


University education and job market

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's directive to the country's university hierarchy to design curricula in line with the local and international job market demands is a welcome prioritising of an important aspect of development that has so far received only piecemeal attention.

Our universities keep churning out small armies of graduates each year who have little prospect of securing employment to match their formal qualifications. This is because their training and knowledge does not precisely match present-day job market needs.

Paradoxically, some of our graduates’ organisations are the first to oppose the private universities that cater to the demands of the modern day job market and, to agitate for their closure. President Rajapaksa has ushered in a refreshing emphasis on technocracy in every sphere of his administration and is a keen promoter of advanced technology for the advancement of the country's economy. He is unlikely to favour any curbs on the burgeoning private higher education sector that is, currently, thriving on the growing demand for technology-savvy personnel.

Addressing University Vice Chancellors and officials of the University Grants Commission (UGC) on Monday, the President had argued that the present university curricula should be re-oriented to match modern day job demands. He had pointed out that despite years of persistent labour demand in the fields of Medicine, Engineering, Nursing and Information Technology, the University system has so far failed to meet this demand in any significant manner.

It was absolutely necessary, he said, to consider this aspect when formulating policies connected to tertiary education in the future. He suggested the addition of Information Technology as a subject for Arts degrees. The Arts stream in our universities not only continues to produce unemployable graduates but also is a fertile breeding ground for unrest in the universities.

A study carried out sometime ago revealed that many students in the arts faculties came from more disadvantaged social backgrounds with a chip on their shoulders and, were often the main force behind the brutalised ‘ragging’ culture in our universities. Hence the change suggested by the President to the curriculum of the Arts stream, would, hopefully, divert the energies of this segment of students to productive pursuits that would benefit them in the long run.

This is not the first time that the curricula of our universities have come under the microscope. The advent of the liberalised market economy, the surge of development activity and, expansion of the national economy have all brought in their wake a whole new set of opportunities in the employment market with the accent on technology, new skill levels and, whole new sectors of economic life.

This has necessitated a change in both the public and private education sectors.

While the private sector has seized the opportunity offered by the expanded job market to throw up a gamut of new study courses, our State sector’s higher and vocational education system continues to flounder, stuck in somewhat moribund, rigid, curricula which continue to produce cohorts of un-employable graduates.

For far too long the system has been producing graduates who are out of their depth when it comes to applying their book learning to the jobs on offer in the modern day. The products of the universities all these years have been burning the midnight oil cramming on meaningless notes only to regurgitate them at the exams. This learning by rote must be brought to an end at least where the next generation of university entrants are concerned.

They must be imparted a learning that will condition them to face the new challenges and that which will enable to make their higher education meaningful by putting this to good use. It is not that our youth are without the latent talent and enterprise.

As the President told the University dons, Sri Lanka possesses an educated technology-savvy labour force capable enough to move the country forward. Yet despite this there are no takers for the jobs in those sectors that could jump start the economy - largely due to the failure of the current educational system to turn out such talent in adequate numbers.

It is time for a drastic course correction in our education set-up if we are to face the future on equal terms with the rest of the world.

All relevant actors - educationists, academics, professionals and policymakers - should put their collective heads together and come up with an acceptable blueprint to transform the current education system to make it a more productive, rewarding formational process.

Piecemeal solutions, as in the past, will not work. As the President said, it is important that the country evolves a national education policy in a manner that no Government would need to deviate from, it for some time to come.

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