Universities should offer practical qualifications that immediately qualify graduates for jobs


Dean Erasmus says that institutions of higher learning need to focus on the outcome of improving lives and finding work, rather than research.

Looking at #FeesMustFall – the issues can be traced to our high school system and a matric qualification that is worthless, and the current reigning universities focusing on research to the detriment of equipping students with practical life skills.

Exploring benchmark studies from “first world” economies, interesting trends emerge – only around 5% of Australians continue studying to receive a university degree, and of that, a third are foreigners with temporary residence. These low percentages are mirrored in Western Europe, where having a university degree is by no means a necessity to be a productive and respected member in the economy.

The youth in these communities receive high school education which equips them to venture into the job market immediately, while in South Africa, learners with a Grade 12 certificate do not have the skills needed to enter the job market, or continue to successfully study further. Universities have to offer bridging courses to enable the students to cope with the tough requirements of studying further.

Without getting too philosophical, one has to realise that the institutions featured largely in the news over the past few months are research-based. They form part of a global trend in higher education that sees institutions moving away from practical education that addresses market demands, to an increased focus on research output as their core mandate.

In the past, most universities were educational institutions offering practical training, which would help graduates to immediately work in an external economic environment. Now you can see scenarios where universities have a staff of ten academics and six of these only do research and don’t deal with people. How can students go to an institution whose focus is not on the students?

The reality is if you embark on your academic career with the prospects of improving your quality of life and finding work outside of university environment, education should become a means of achieving this. For all South Africans – irrespective of age or background – who want to study further, it becomes imperative that our educational institutions are focused on this outcome first.

A visiting professor I spoke to recently told me he felt that, “#FeesMustFall is turning universities into soup kitchens,” – this emphasises, to me, how out-of-touch many public institutions are with what it is that we are trying to achieve for the aspiring youth in South Africa.

After more than a decade in higher education, of which a large part was spent in the USA, Dean Erasmus has consulted with leading universities across the globe on student success. He recently moved back to Africa and has since consulted with African governments on curriculum implementation, supported distance-learning strategies for Botswana and is currently head of Stakeholder Relations for Regenesys.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Students have turned university degrees into fetish-objects rather than technical skill certification. Many select courses that have a reputation of being the easiest to pass — especially after having flunked the courses with a more rigorous and robust academic standard. So, in a best-case scenario, they emerge with a third-class degree in the soft humanities — political science, anthropology, sociology, psychology, womens’ studies and religion. The only people who employ graduates in these disciplines are universities themselves or the odd quango. But an academic career requires a minimum of a good master’s degree — and a 3rd class BA won’t even get you into an Honours course, let alone an MA programme. A Ph.D or a real work job? Forget it!

    • The educational institutions that used to provide this service were technical colleges but they all seem to be called universities now. Those learners who were not able to do maths or science subjects to university level were redirected to technical schools and artisan training. This is all rather well known as is the fact that FET colleges just seem to produce almost nothing with vast sums of money. Asking the universities to make up the deficit is a bit like throwing your crack troops in when all the rest have failed. I had an interesting conversation with a university professor who is also a member of the university council (senate?) who mentioned in passing that 20% of the teaching budget was already devoted to bridging courses between schools and university and that the humanities were very lucrative as only 1 lecturer assisted by a few honours students were able to teach hundreds of students with almost no equipment while Science, Engineering and Medicine were the big cost leaders. Make what you will of that. Sorting schools out would probably help a bit but I don’t think there’s much effort going in there.


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