Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
The future of postgraduate studies needs rethinking to avoid a situation where people will feel disenfranchised when the economy fails to appreciate their qualifications.
It has become fashionable for middle-aged professionals in Zimbabwe to pursue postgraduate qualifications, many of whom are sticking to the disciplines they studied in their first degree.
The choice to remain within a single field of speciality is appropriate for those who intend to work in academia, but those who want to sell services to industry may need to re-look at how they approach their academic progression.
Zimbabwe is pursuing Vision 2030, a policy approach which aims to turn the country into a middle income nation by the year 2030.
If the idea works as intended, Zimbabwe will move into this new classification — with an improved quality of life for its own people.
Newly-industrialised countries comprise of functional industry backed with small entities which feed into the niche markets.
For Zimbabwe, this translates to focus on capitalising on the existing pillars of the economy which include agriculture, mining, tourism, manufacturing and power generation.
All these industries are going to need graduates to play a part in the value addition function which will be central to developing the country further.
There is need for prospective and existing graduates to position themselves for absorption by critical industries.
For instance, if a person holds a degree in marketing it may not be enough for them to be relevant in an industrialising economy.
There maybe thousands more holding the same qualifications.
There is a need for them to gain knowledge on a specific industry to be of service to a particular niche.
So, instead of going for a masters degree to enhance their employment chances, a marketing honours may need to study for a degree or diploma in mining.
Combining their first degree in marketing and mining means they become holders of a hybrid competence in mineral marketing which makes them more attractive to employers in mining. The temptation to go straight to masters degree may be high in this age where people now study for self-actualisation, but it may not be the best decision for graduates who want to have unique abilities in their respective industries.
There are two types of postgraduate degrees, one which leaves people technically competent in a certain field and the other which enhances a person’s theoretical grounding.
Both kinds of degrees are necessary, but fit aptly in economies at different stages. Technical competence or independently applicable knowledge allows individuals to make use of their knowledge profitably.
On the other hand, theoretical knowledge empowers people to produce information and identify problems which need solutions from a particular expertise.
The former favours growing economies, while the latter is more suited in service markets usually found in highly developed countries.
Zimbabwe recently released the 2018 national critical skills audit and the report showed that although there is a 94 percent literacy rate, there is a 38 percent competence rate in critical skills held by graduates.
This points to an opportunity to all existing graduates and those working towards academic qualifications to align their general skills with industry through second qualifications which feeds into sectors.
Specialised skills will be needed more than banal or one dimensional paper qualifications in the near future.
Universities will have to adjust their curriculum to the needs of the economy, but as they gradually respond, those who channel their expertise into sectors stand to benefit.
The Zimbabwe of tomorrow will need more economists who specialise in agriculture, mining, agro-processing, tourism and other critical areas.
Specialisation is now key as opposed to general qualifications.
With vision 2030 already in motion, the future belongs to those who are ready to specialise in a particular niche than merely accumulating paper qualifications for their own sake.