In recent years, there has been a huge expansion of the higher education sector in Kenya. Where there were just five public universities in the country in 2005, today there are 22 with plans for as many as 20 new universities. Growth in the university sector has largely come about through the upgrade of already existing colleges. The demand for university education in Kenya has significantly increased and continues to swell. Many secondary school graduates and the working class look for opportunities to pursue university education.
This is that time of the year when graduation ceremonies are being conducted by almost every higher learning institutions in the country. Students are happy, especially those whose names are included in the graduation list, since there are others whose names mysteriously miss out due to missing marks. Parents on the other hand are even more excited when their children confirm to them that they will be graduating, since that is what they always look out for from the moment a child is enrolled at the University.
Kenya faces a growing problem of what has been referred to as the ‘youth bulge’, with 80 percent of its population under 35 years old. The youth, aged 15–34 years, which form 35 per cent of the population, have the highest unemployment rate of 67 percent. Not all of this age group are in the labour force, but the unemployment rate amongst those that are is extremely high. Recent expansion of the university sector has fed into perceptions that many of the increased number of graduates joining the labour market are failing to obtain jobs.
But did you know that it takes a university graduate an average of five years to secure a job in Kenya today? And is if this is not enough, as many of those in employment are not engaged in the jobs for which they are qualified.
About 50, 000 graduates are churned out of public and private universities in Kenya every year piling onto the number of unemployed youth in the country estimated at 2.3 million, according to the ministry of Education. These graduates, especially those from less fortunate backgrounds, are now forced to engage in menial jobs to survive.
African newspapers are replete with stories of the hardships graduates face in finding employment, and employer dissatisfaction with the graduates seeking employment, especially their poor preparedness for the workplace: a frequent descriptor is that they are ‘half-baked’. These narratives are repeated so frequently that the problems of employability have become common knowledge especially in Kenya.
The country has designed various political and economic policies that seek to address the unemployment challenge through the generation of inclusive economic growth to reduce poverty by strengthening the private sector, and to generate employment opportunities, especially for the youth.
These development ambitions are the core of Kenya’s development blueprint, ‘Vision 2030’, which seeks to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country that provides a high-quality life for all its citizens by the year 2030. The blueprint assigns education and training an important role in spearheading this transformation, through technological innovation, a shift from knowledge-reproduction to knowledge-production, and ensuring the availability of a critical mass of well-qualified human resource.
With a growing young population and the value attached to university education for better prospects in life, adequate measures need to be put in place urgently to prevent the unemployment crisis from worsening. Graduates are therefore expected to consider self-employment so as to reduce the rate of unemployment in Kenya. With support from the government and the private sector, they can be able to create employment to themselves and their fellow graduates.