WASHINGTON DC —
About 30,000 students graduate annually from Zimbabwe’s colleges and universities. But in a country where the official unemployment rate is 10.7 percent and unofficially over 80 percent, few may land jobs in the formal sector, while the majority will join the unemployed, or informal traders selling mobile phone units, tomatoes, cabbages and other wares, on the streets
Melody Chikwanha graduated from Midlands State University last year, feeling very prepared to land a good job. But so far, no luck.
“I can do very good research work. I love doing development work. I can even work for a consultant to help them out with research work but no one is hiring because no-one has money to pay new people.”
Chikwanha, who studied psychology, says she was not expecting this. Her attempts to venture into the informal sector, selling mobile phone accessories, ended after police closed down, what they termed an illegal entity in Harare. She says she’s been reduced to a beggar.
“As it is right now I am unemployed. I don’t have anything to sell. I am just trying to get anything to sell. At the moment I have to call a distant cousin or distant relative because I do not have anything.”
Also facing the harsh realities of a graduate is Tinashe Matyaso, who graduated from the University of Zimbabwe in 2011, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computers and Mathematics. While he was fortunate to find a job as a temporary teacher, he says he’s unsettled as the government could terminate his contract any time.
“At the school I am teaching there is a large number of former university graduates. Qualified teachers are being pushed to urban areas and we are supposed to be sent to rural schools. It’s hard to swallow. It’s a thorn in the flesh.”
Those who left to study outside Zimbabwe, in countries like South Africa, seem to have it even worse. Sabelo, who only gives her first name, is the beneficiary of a Presidential scholarship. She says her law degree is almost worthless in Zimbabwe.
“Right now I think we are groomed to be jobs seekers. We assumed it will be easy to get jobs. It is difficult to get money to start your own company and worse still, if you are a lawyer who obtained your degree outside the country. Right now I depend on my parents for a living. There is nothing I can do.”
David Sithole, Dean of Students at the University of Zimbabwe, attributes all these cases to the country’s poor economy, and not the quality of education.
“It is not a question of lack of skills. They have nowhere to practice the skills that they learned. We train engineers, doctors and of course doctors are still getting jobs from the formal sector. Quite a large number of people graduating from universities are finding no jobs. There are no jobs”.
Sithole adds that Zimbabwe should work to enable companies to create jobs for college and university graduates.
“Students are adequately trained for the outside world even to form their own companies but they cannot do that because of financial challenges. Our industries are closing down everyday. So, there is nowhere to go. We need to redress out economy. Under such circumstances where do they get cash to start their own companies?”
But with the unemployment problem not likely to be rectified anytime soon, lecturer Nkululeko Sibanda of Huddersfield University in London, says its maybe time for colleges and universities to start equipping students with innovative skills, so they can create jobs, rather than look for them.
“What our young people are doing is to be ready to get a job and be employed by somebody else in an environment where even in western world of in the overly industrialized countries being employed is a difficult task.”
Sibanda says Zimbabwe’s education system should take a page out of some Asian nations like Bhutan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, which are nurturing the innovative skills of students at tertiary institutions.
“It’s a lot better and a lot more enriching to be innovative and start something new, to bring new ideas and this type of education is not existing at all in Zimbabwe. But perhaps it is absolutely necessary and it is going to be the key to Africa or Zimbabwe’s problems economically, socially and politically.”
But Melody Chikwanha, Tinashe Matyaso and Sabelo – the graduates mentioned earlier, say while they’ve tried to be innovative, their attempts to create their own jobs fell short, due to lack of capital, and failure to get low-interest bank loans. This is the dilemma Chikwanha faces in her attempt to start agricultural schemes to feed women and children.
“I wish to start this project but do not have an idea about where I will get money to kick-start it. Government loan schemes are hardly advertised or made public. So, it’s a tough situation.”
Government officials insist that Zimbabwe’s education is still highly respected in most nations, despite the mass exodus of qualified teachers and lecturers.