SA universities should brace for ‘massification of higher education’ as first-time graduates battle to find jobs

Students wishing to study humanities are in danger of losing out. Picture: Supplied/ iStock
Students wishing to study humanities are in danger of losing out. Picture: Supplied/ iStock

It’s no secret that universities and colleges are a comfortable environment for first-time graduates who are yet to find jobs.

This is evidenced by the scores of young students who have just acquired their junior degrees but return to universities for postgraduate studies. The majority cite one reason for that – it is tough out there without a job.

In addition, those with arts and humanities degrees seem to struggle more as their qualifications are not categorised as scarce skills.

Government’s failure to grow the economy, coupled with the economic implications induced by the Covid-19 coronavirus, will therefore force universities to create more spaces at postgraduate level.

Universities will have no choice but to prepare to receive more applications for postgraduate studies.

Ordinarily this would be a good thing, given the postgraduate output expected by the National Development Plan. However, in this case the majority of the applications will be inspired by #Covid19 induced scarcity of jobs.

Read: Four things young job seekers can do to get ready for world of work after lockdown

There are many benefits to staying in university as an alternative to being an unemployed graduate at home. The university campus offers a host of facilities necessary for any graduate searching for a job.

Firstly, the accommodation which is covered by the fees and does not require monthly rent from students, provides a guaranteed place to stay as long as you are registered. Then there is the unlimited access to Wi-Fi so you don’t worry about data.

This, to a large extent, provides students a platform to access websites where jobs are advertised.

The Covid-19 economic shock will further reduce employment opportunities for this year’s new graduates (who completed their studies last year).

The economy’s slow growth in recent years has meant that the job market cannot absorb new graduates. This has forced universities to become safe havens for the unemployed graduates.

Students, after completing their first degrees, quickly realise that the job prospects are very slim, and that compels them to pursue postgraduate studies.

As a result, these institutions have had to lower the admission requirements into their honours degrees and other postgraduate programmes.

Student leaders also coerced them into increase their intakes for into postgraduate studies.

The pressure exerted by student unions leave universities with no option but to increase their intakes for postgraduate studies without the matching human resources.

Read: Give students who fail this year another chance, says student council body

Scholars have termed this phenomenon “massification”. Moreover, that was done without balancing the capacity (in terms of the facilities needed within the institutions) so that they can absorb that pressure with ease.

Additionally, it looks like when things return to normalcy – if ever we return to normalcy – universities will witness an increase in the number of students wanting to pursue postgraduate studies because there are no jobs.

In light of this imminent development, all universities need come together to devise a consolidated plan on how they will deal with that increased number of applications for postgraduate studies, otherwise the process of “massification” will continue unabated.

The SA Reserve Bank has projected that the economy will contract by 5.8% in the medium-term as a (in)direct result the Covid-19 outbreak.

Further exacerbated by the nationwide lockdown, the GDP will grow below 0% and that is not desirable for any economy. Low GDP growth has far reaching implications. The university sector will not be insulated from these implications.

A spike in postgraduate applications can be anticipated but majority of these applications will not be from students who genuinely want to pursue postgraduate studies, but those who seek refuge on campuses because they cannot find jobs.

Tutu is a lecturer in international relations and public affairs at the University of KwaZulu-Natal


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