Lecturers at Bukalasa Agricultural College have called for a reevaluation of Uganda’s education system, emphasizing the need to break free from the “Degree Syndrome” and focus more on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).
This phenomenon, characterized by an excessive emphasis on obtaining university degrees, is seen as limiting the focus on practical skills crucial for development and economic transformation.
Led by the Principal of Bukalasa Agricultural College, Gelvan Kisolo Lule, the lecturers stress that while the government has invested significantly in the academic aspect of higher education, it has overlooked other areas that hold the potential to positively impact the economy.
“Our children have been raised with thinking that education equals attaining a degree. And currently, the country is stuck in the Degree Syndrome trap where many people have attained degrees from the mushrooming universities but they cannot use them to do anything,” Lule noted.
The lecturer made the remarks during an interaction with the Education Policy Review Commission whose members visited the college to gather insights for the ongoing efforts to revamp the education sector.
Degree Syndrome refers to the prevailing mindset where individuals prioritize formal degrees over practical skills relevant to their chosen careers, highlighting a potential gap between academic qualifications and the skills demanded by the job market.
Lule emphasized that the key to addressing this issue is to prioritize the development of Technical and Vocational Education and Training and encourage more learners to choose the Technical and Vocational Education and Training- TVET education path.
He added that this will be creating more artisans and technicians which in his view, the economy requires more individuals with practical skills than those with degrees.
Joseph Sserwanga, the deputy principal at the college, also pointed out that on an individual level, skills acquired through TVET can be immensely beneficial to learners, providing them with employable skills. In cases where employment opportunities are scarce, individuals can easily create their jobs, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.
Sserwanga observed that in the revised framework, the academic route should be reserved for exceptionally academically gifted students and essential professionals in critical fields such as teaching and medicine.
Additionally, Sserwanga observed that in rapidly developing nations such as Singapore, China, and Germany, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) play a significant role across various sectors.
He proposed that individuals with university-level academic backgrounds should primarily dedicate themselves to research and the generation of new knowledge, products, and technologies. Subsequently, these innovations would be implemented by skilled artisans and technicians within their specific fields.
TVET colleges and institutions generally offer practical, hands-on training meant to be utilized in specific trade or industry, while universities typically offer a more theoretical and academic education. Sserwanga emphasized to the commission that in establishing a TVET-based system, it is crucial to establish a well-defined institutional framework.
This framework should facilitate the high-quality delivery of various forms and methods of TVET, encompassing aspects such as career guidance, recruitment, accreditation, assessment, certification, as well as monitoring and evaluation.
Lule, could not resist sharing about a concerning trend of undervaluing lower qualifications such as certificates and diplomas, even within the public service. This trend is pushing young individuals to pursue higher qualifications, often lacking practical skills. Using their college as an example, Lule notes that diploma holders rush to obtain degrees, only to discover that much of the content covered in university lectures is redundant, as they had already mastered it during their diploma studies or had received even better training.
He also points out that the government’s focus on establishing universities in various areas should be reconsidered. From his perspective, instead of more universities, the government should prioritize opening TVET institutions and colleges, aligning them with the specific trades prevalent in each area.
The principal questioned the disparity in the number of agricultural colleges, using the example of Bukalasa in Uganda, despite the country being primarily agricultural. He wonders how the government expects developed technologies from universities and research institutes to be applied when there is a shortage of technicians and artisans in crucial areas. The call by lecturers comes at a time when the Ministry of Education has passed a TVET policy.
This policy advocates for an educational pathway in TVET, permitting individuals to choose TVET studies from lower educational levels, extending through vocational institutions and colleges.
The policy also proposes the establishment of a TVET university, providing the opportunity for learners on this path to achieve degrees and even postgraduate qualifications in their respective trades.
The emphasis on vocational and skills training has gained traction, as a growing number of students pursuing the academic route find themselves unemployed and struggling to establish their careers. In the past, vocational and skills education was often seen as a recourse only for those who faced challenges in traditional educational settings.
Meanwhile, Lule has urged the commission to prioritize addressing issues related to internships, apprenticeships, and similar matters in their report. He stressed the significance of highlighting these aspects as additional measures to promote a seamless relationship between training centers and the workforce, which is currently lacking clarity.
Internship remains a significant challenge in Uganda’s education sector due to the absence of policies or guidelines. Notably, there is a growing reluctance among certain organizations to provide industrial attachment opportunities to trainees. Both institutions and universities have raised concerns about this issue.
The Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB) recently called on the government to mandate the industry and private sector to provide internship placements for technical and vocational trainees.