In the journey towards the development, every country wants to achieve the full employment. However, due to the various issues, unemployment has been a problem for Sri Lanka over the decades, especially from the independence. The country’s economic development lies on the hands of human beings whose quality can be further improved by the education, particularly by the university education. Sri Lanka has been a country suffering from graduate unemployment. Hence, it is timely to widely discuss the matter.
Cream of the cream
Education in Sri Lanka basically cantered on the main religion, the Buddhism. The right to education was restricted to the elite and Buddhist monks in the past. However, with the arrival of British imperialists to Ceylon, they began to establish university colleges which followed Ox-Bridge traditions. As soon as free education was introduced to Sri Lanka, the university system in this country also grew and has been gaining wide currency all over the world vis-à-vis dissemination of knowledge and researches. The issue of the employability of the graduates produced by Sri Lankan universities has been questionable over the years and not yet properly addressed by policymakers. Currently, state universities in this country are forced to be in competition with private universities for academic excellence.
"In other words, graduates in the everything-politicized world, although reluctant, are compelled to work for politicians begging jobs. Spontaneously, a political culture favourable to politicians is being created in Sri Lanka due to this issue - that’s why politicians are unwilling to change this culture"
University students are, in all senses of the word, the cream of the cream, since they got through the most competitive examination. Even though they can be rated on the top of the hierarchy of education of this country, they are compelled to go down on the list of jobs at the time when they apply for jobs with their hard-earned educational qualification. As graduates, perhaps, having even bachelor’s degree with first class, are rejected by respective employers, saying that their subject-oriented knowledge can never be applied in the work world. The policymakers should have a bird’s-eye view of the unemployment of graduates in the country going to be developed in the post-war era, since Sri Lanka, as a middle-income country, allocates a significant amount of money from the annual budget for education, especially for university education.
Expected returns of expenditure on education should reach to the society. If not, the country as well as its citizens has to permanently stay at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs. It means that they are not capable of satisfying needs. The social cost of the unemployed is also huge. Graduates ought to be a group of persons who were trained to contribute for economic development of a country. Unfortunately, it seems that the country’s educational policy does not fulfil the above-mentioned criterion. Hence, this enunciates how to produce marketable graduates steering the economy towards prosperity.
Road to Damascus
Parents as well as students are used to consider the entrance to a state-funded university as a road to Damascus. The highest number of new university entrants is enrolled for the faculty of arts. The root-cause is that there are no well-qualified teachers for science, commerce subjects. As a consequence, rural students are, although good at science, commerce subjects, compelled to follow the arts stream. The plight of these students goes from bad to worse, once they are enrolled to universities. Almost every subject unit of the arts faculty is taught either in the Sinhala or Tamil medium even in top-ranked universities of this country.
It has become difficult to conduct lectures in the English medium as many students are still comfortable in their mother-tongue alone. Although programmes are set so as to improve the IT and English skills of students, no expected results are achieved. There should be soft skills such as group working skill in addition to the above-mentioned abilities. If programmes to arm students with professional qualifications had paid off, graduates could not have agitated demanding jobs. Only the minority who passes out from local universities is fluent in English. Consequently, there is no doubt that they are excluded of job market where English is the communication medium.
This issue must be seriously taken into consideration because graduates produced by some faculties have been a burden on the economy. Although free education is available in this country, parents have to bear huge amounts of money on their children’s university education. But, it is sad to state that graduates are disillusioned with the knowledge that they received at university as they are fed up with finding jobs. Final year students are at a loss where to go and what to do. Many students make attempts to do extra courses, while carrying on studies at university. Hence, they are utterly bereft, leading busy lifestyles. They have crosses to bear as work heaps up, resulting in acute tension in mind. This is, of course, not to make a mockery of local higher education sector but to disclose the reality.
It is true that those who failed to continue higher studies and entered the work world are well ahead of those came to university. This makes students repent of the education.
Another factor behind the unemployment of graduates is that universities are indefinitely closed down based on various reasons. Hence, the period of time at which one should be at university prolongs. The ultimate outcome is that the age limit at which one could apply for jobs passes. As a result, university graduates have no other alternative except for being dependent on jobs offered by the government. Likewise, it results in agitation of graduates insisting upon government jobs. It appears that these are inter-related.
It is of the essence to mention here that opportunistic politicians capitalize on the helplessness of these students in their political campaign. In other words, graduates in the everything-politicized world, although reluctant, are compelled to work for politicians begging jobs. Spontaneously, a political culture favourable to politicians is being created in Sri Lanka due to this issue - that’s why politicians are unwilling to change this culture. They want the unemployed graduates as they used unemployed graduates to grab the power. This is a process that has been coming about over the years.
However, the notion that took firm roots in the society is that it is up to the government in power to provide these graduates with suitable jobs should be brushed aside because what the government and other bureaucrats ought to do is not to offer jobs for those who learned outdated disciplines but to train them as demanded by the market. It is known that people in the Sri Lankan political culture, at a time of election, vote for political parties with a purpose of getting a job for their son or daughter, not thinking of the country or common disputes.
It seems that this problem is associated with every part of the society. It is sufficient to get a feeling about the gravity of this issue. When the country is developing, keeping higher literacy rate itself is not sufficient at all. The discontent of the youth has to be addressed. Sri Lanka has experienced the gravity of youth discontent in the past. It is time to eradicate this issue from the education sector, so that the country can be a pool of professionals.
(Amila Muthukutti holds a BA in Economics from the University of Colombo and can be reached at email@example.com)