Friday January 6, 2023
By Mohamed Adam
Somalia has one of the youngest populations in the world. It is estimated that around 70% of the country’s population is under the age of 30. Nonetheless, 41% and 35% of young people between the ages of 15–19 and 20–24, respectively, are job seekers. While about half of the young population under the age of 30 is unemployed and actively looking for jobs, their families, meanwhile, have high expectations for them since they are university graduates and have been studying for years.
On the other hand, the country is recovering from a protracted civil war that devastated almost every sector, including education. As a result, the education sector’s quality is poor, and it faces critical challenges such as a severe shortage of qualified teachers; a lack of professional training; a scarcity of laboratories and physical infrastructures suitable for modern education; the sector’s “commoditization,” and a clear mismatch between the focus and output of higher education and local market demands.
Even more, the persistence of poor-quality education is contributed to by the lack of regulatory action to reign in the sector. Somalia’s federal government did establish an interim National Higher Education Commission in 2019 as the first instrument to check and bring the chaotically mushrooming sector in line with established standards. However, this remains toothless in the face of degrading higher education quality and the disastrous consequences that are accompanying this.
Consequently, the skills and knowledge of students who graduate from local higher education institutions are often questioned. Due to this, some believe that employers tend to prefer those who studied abroad over the locals. Although most universities in Somalia are in the Benadir region, the quality of the education offered by a number of these institutions is considered poor.
Against this backdrop, Somali Public Agenda (SPA) held a forum on Thursday, September 15, 2022, to discuss the impact of higher education quality in Mogadishu on youth employability. The forum participants represented different stakeholders, including students and recent graduates from universities in Mogadishu; employers and employment centres; technical and vocational training centres; teachers’ associations; schools and university unions; capacity-building centres; entrepreneurship and innovation centres; and representatives from the Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs and Education, Culture, and Higher Education of the Somali Federal Government.
The Interplay Between Higher Education Quality and Employability
Students’ employability opportunities after graduation are inextricably linked to the quality of their higher education. Education institutions equip students with skills and knowledge to enhance their self-development and their employability following their graduation. According to a human resource officer at a local Mogadishu bank who participated in the forum, many students who graduate from allegedly low-quality universities are disqualified from the early stages of recruitment processes and do not advance to the long or short lists.
In addition, according to some participants, employers look for people who have graduated from educational institutions that are believed to have higher quality. They further claimed that students who have studied in countries that are perceived to have quality education systems are given “special treatment” and are on the radar of employers looking for prospective employees. This scenario, however, has particularly affected the job market in Somalia and has given an advantage to the students who graduate from higher education institutions outside the country and are considered to have relatively good quality education.
Who is to Blame for the Poor Quality of Education and Youth Unemployment?
The Federal Government of Somalia: The FGS’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education has been unsuccessful in dealing with the poor quality of higher education institutions. Furthermore, the country has lacked an education act, standards, and a unified education system in the past. Additionally, although most universities do not teach students the English language efficiently throughout their courses, the language is vital in the job market, and most of the courses in these universities are taught in English. As a result, that discrepancy results in confusion and setbacks for students after they graduate and start looking for job opportunities in the market.
Moreover, the FGS Ministry of Education has little control over the higher education sector and hardly has a say in the decisions made here. Thus, private universities and other higher educational institutions are easily opened and operated in Mogadishu, and there are no strictly applied requirements to follow for their establishment. Also, the Ministry of Education rarely gives training or improves the skills of lecturers in these universities and higher educational institutions.
As a participant noted, these educational institutions therefore produce unskilled and poor students who cannot perform or have the skills required in the labour market. Hence, foreigners and students who have been educated abroad take advantage of that gap. On the other hand, the participant further contended that while jobs are already scarce in Mogadishu, the current competitive job market pushes locally produced students aside and aggravates their unemployment situation.
Higher Education Institutions: Likewise, higher educational institutions are also partly to be blamed for the low quality of education in Mogadishu and the high number of unemployed youth. It is alleged that the vast majority of educational institutions in Mogadishu do not provide students with skills that enable them to compete for scarce jobs available on the market such as communication skills and digital skills. Instead, higher education institutions provide theory courses that are detached from market employment realities.
Subsequently, students encounter a different world when they join the labour market. Facing the new realities on the ground, they recognize how wide the gap is between the university education they had and the market. Sadly, this situation results in some job seekers giving up looking for job opportunities, leaving the field open to others who have graduated from other institutions outside of the country.
On the other hand, some participants at the SPA forum argued that education and higher educational institutions in Mogadishu are “commercialized” and have become profitable businesses. As a result, educational institutions care less about the qualities and capabilities of their teaching staff. Instead, they look for all possible means to generate income.
Additionally, several educational institutions in Mogadishu lack crucial programmes and departments, such as career development centres that might aid students in getting better prepared for the labour market and understanding what opportunities are available to them. Last but not the least, these institutions give less attention or importance to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) courses, which are crucial for students to gain skills readily employable in the market.
Students: Some of the forum participants pointed out that students are part of the problem, as many of them focus on acquiring certificates rather than working hard to learn essential skills and improve themselves. Additionally, as stated by a participant, students’ efforts are directed toward being hired at white-collar jobs. Subsequently, many students ignore vocational or manual jobs and look for professional and administrative ones.
Moreover, another forum participant argued that most of the students focus on some specific courses, which creates constriction in the labour market after graduating. She further noted that the large numbers of graduates (from the same disciplines) overwhelm the job market and result in many students struggling to find jobs even if they have the necessary skills required for these jobs. According to the Iftin Foundation, which conducts annual studies on Somali university graduates, 52.79% of graduates from 52 universities across Somalia in 2020 had graduated from only four faculties: business administration (accounting, HR, banking & finance) (15.10%), public administration (14.65%), nursing & midwifery (12.94%), and computer science/IT & BIT (10.10%).
1. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education should ensure the functionality and effectiveness of the High Education Commission. The commission is essential for the quality of education in Somalia. Furthermore, the Ministry would closely control, monitor, and regulate the higher educational institutions in the country and work to ensure that they provide quality education and meet the requirements to run an institution.
2. Some courses taught in Mogadishu’s universities should be reviewed and re-aligned with national priorities and market needs, while others should be prioritized and targeted student enrolment sound be encouraged. Many young people spend years learning courses that are not relevant to the needs of the market or the country’s current situation. Conversely, vital courses for the country, such as agriculture and fishing, are neglected and not prioritized by universities, and students are not encouraged to enrol. The Ministry of Education and the High Education Commission should align what is taught in higher educational institutions with what the market demands.
3. Awareness is highly needed among the youth to change their attitudes towards and perceptions of the job market and the skills demanded in it. It is not uncommon among youth and students to look for professional, desk, managerial, or administrative jobs rather than manual jobs. As a result, a handful of TVET schools and institutions where manual skills are taught, such as welding, mechanics, electricity, and construction, are in Mogadishu, and it is rare for youths to join them. Rather, they look down and disdain TVET schools wrongly assuming that only poor people are destined for and/or end up in such institutions.
4. Higher education institutions, employment centres, and employers should collaborate and establish constant contact. The relationship between the three can help students become equipped with the skills and knowledge that the market needs. A lack of collaboration between them can result in a mismatch between what the students have learned in educational institutions and what the market needs.
5. Employers should not discriminate against local graduates simply because they presumably graduate from low-quality institutions compared to those who graduate from foreign institutions without proof; instead, there should be fair and standard recruitment procedures that give candidates equal employment opportunities.
Mohamed Adam is forums coordinator and researcher at Somali Public Agenda.