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This 2016 report from Stutern, the most recent report I found on Nigerian graduates employment rate, reveals as follows: only 50% of Nigerian graduates are employed full time; 3 out of 4 employed graduates earn less than N50,000 ($125) on their first job; more than 80% of Nigerian graduates cannot buy a car from their first salary – only 12% can; and the average first year salary of a graduate of University of Ilorin equals fifteen times their total tuition.

Before now, Nigerian universities, which were mostly public universities, had no incentive to improve their graduates’ employability because demands for their programs far exceeded the supply. However, as more private universities spring up, 79, according to National Universities Commission’s website as of the time of writing, which charge students millions of Naira for tuition, there’s urgent need, more than ever, for institutions to prove an academic program with them is worth the investment. And what better way to prove that than to show that a high percentage of their graduates get employed in their field of study soon after graduation?

Given the large loans students obtain for studies, sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of dollars, schools in the United States already appreciate the need to prove enrolling with them yield a high ROI (Return on Investment). A friend who got admission into a U.S. Law school, and had yet to start his academic program, was already connected to future employers by his Law school. Contrast this with my experience at a private university in Nigeria where the school never once prepared me for job hunting.

As the competition intensifies among Nigerian private schools to retain students from wealthy homes who can afford the luxury of a private university education, Below are five ways schools can improve their graduate employment rate.

  1. Run School-Owned Businesses and  Non-Profits

Schools are supposed to be catalyst for innovation and development and are charged with conducting researches to benefit their host communities. Nigeria’s high unemployment is due to insufficient economic activity. A university that starts a for-profit business could use student labor at a cheap or no cost, try ideas and develop knowledge that can be patented and transferred to the community. As Nigeria tries to boost agriculture production for example, and schools are knows to own large acres of arable land, a school could charge its Engineering Faculty with inventing mechanized equipment for farming, its Agriculture Economics department with managing the farm , Marketing Department with advertising the proceeds for sale and requesting grants from government, Accounting Department with managing the finances and its Biochemistry Department with manufacturing fertilizers and pest control. This may sound utopian but is doable.  And is being done. A Senior Catholic Seminary in Eastern Nigeria has a productive piggery, poultry and produce farm run by seminarians.

To benefit their host communities, schools can also run non-profits. This not only help students gain valuable work experience, but improves a school’s reputatoion. For example, rather than doing mock trials, Law students can run non-profit clinics tasked with providing minimal legal services, for example, applying for bail for indigent inmates, reducing or fulfilling stringent bail conditions etc. Law clinics can also have dispute resolution sections that settle disputes between members of the community. Law schools can partner with the state and courts in this regard as the courts have interest in decongesting prisons and managing caseloads. And you would be surprised at how much, with the benefit of exuberant optimism –even if irrational — of youths, students can accomplish with little guidance . For example, my proudest moment till date as an attorney was about nine years ago, when as second year lawyer I got a criminal case against an accused person, who had been detained for months, dismissed pro bono, without any assistance from a senior attorney.

To support the point above, Best Value Schools has this to say about University of Munich in this article about schools with high employment rates: The key to the Technical University of Munich’s graduate employment success is that many of its jobs are homegrown. What does this mean? Well, as TUM’s facts and figures page points out, TUM has directly generated over 800 start-ups, providing over 14,500 jobs, with many positions going to graduate students. In fact, TUM has been supporting it students’ businesses for 130 years. 

2 Hold  Career Fairs

A school usually needs so many professional services like accounting, banking, legal, IT etc. to function. My undergraduate private university in Nigeria never held a career day for us. A school intentional about improving its students’ employability can start its first career fair by having businesses and firms it patronize, hold fairs in the school to interview and employ the best talents in the school. It becomes a win-win both for the businesses, which gains top talents, and the school, which places its students in gainful employment. A school that gives a business hundreds of millions of Naira worth of business a year should not hesitate to ask the firm to return the favor by employing one of its own. Having career fairs also prepare students for real world interviews.

3. Mandate Internships

I never did an internship during  my undergraduate days. I did, however, in Law School and shortly, I will tell you how the Law school internship benefited me. Internships benefit businesses who get students’ services, with the fresh ideas that come with it, for free, as most are unpaid. In return, students get practical experience in their field of study, make valuable network, and if they distinguish themselves, get employment offer from the employer in time for graduation. For example, after I finished Law school, I went back to work with the law firm I interned with during Law school. As I already had a relationship with the firm, no interviews were required. While I did not make much money working there, my experience there prepared me for a successful career. Here’s another example from the Best Value Schools article previously mentioned, this time, about MIT: “Even among other world-leading universities, MIT stands out. This is due to the way students get full-time jobs through MIT’s support. MIT has a few not so secret weapons that students can leverage. One such tool is MISTI, MIT’s award-winning international internship program. This ensures that all of its students have the opportunity to find intern work across 25 countries. MISTI covers all expenses, including flights, which means students can stop worrying about money and start focusing on achievement. But what impact do internships really have on employment? The answer is lots. In fact, the leading means of an MIT student finding full-time work after completing their studies was a direct result of an internship.”

The same Best Value Schools article also said of University of Oxford: 95% of graduates are in employment or further study within six months of completing their degrees. One of the innovative features of the University of Oxford is its micro internship program, which runs for one week in every term of study, allowing students to quickly gain some useful experience.

4. Develop School Curriculum In Partnership With, and  With Business Communities in Mind

Churning out graduates in fields that are not in high demand perpetuates the cycle of unemployment. Schools who partner with big employers determine what their labor needs are and develop curriculum to fit the business’ needs. This enables the school to feed its graduates into these businesses with little competition from graduates from other schools who may not be knowledgeable about the unique needs of the businesses. For example, most top schools in the U.S. are producing more IT students to meet the business needs of the four tech giants Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apples. For our purpose in Nigeria, Stutern report also found that Computer Science, Economics and Electrical Engineering are the most employable degrees in the country. A school intentional about getting its graduates employed will conducts its own research, promote, and encourage its students to enroll in fields of studies that are in higher demand.

5. Nurture their Alumni

I know a Nigerian university that charges over N50,000 for each transcript application by its alumni (keep in mind less than 25% of Nigerian graduates make this much in a month in their first jobs), water mark same transcripts with the receiving institution’s name and indicate in the cover letter that it is only to be used for the institution, so alums pay the school each time they need a transcript. I know someone who applied to this school four different times for different purposes including employment and graduate studies. Did I mention this school did not have a working email on its website for the institutions and employers to verify the transcripts, causing their alums to lose opportunities? Meanwhile, this school, to the best of my knowledge, has no program whatsoever intentionally geared at ensuring its graduates find employment after leaving school. Not only should a school actively seek to find job for its graduate to increase its ranking, it should offer all support necessary including offering recommendation letters and references to alumni with as little hassle as possible. Moreover, the alum over time become wealth creators themselves and a school that treats its alum well will know when they are capable of hiring other alums and encourage them to do so.

Most of the schools listed in that Best Value School’s List of 30 Colleges Most Likely to Land You an Enjoyable Career have over 90% employment rate within six months of graduation and some have over 70% of graduates with job offer at the time of graduation.

Covenant University Ota – A Nigeria Case Study

The Stutern article lists Covenant University as the school in Nigeria with the highest employment rate at 90%. A look at the school’s website shows the following

A. The school has a center for Entrepreneurial Development Studies (EDS) “a custom-built programme in Covenant University. The programme is an all semester programme and compulsory for all students of the University irrespective of the student’s chosen field of study. It involves both theory and practical. The operations of the programme are housed in the Centre for Entrepreneurial Development Studies (CEDS). The Vision of the Centre is to empower Covenant University graduates entrepreneurially in a bid to make them productive and contribute significantly toward national socio-economic and human development. To develop an entrepreneurial spirit, skills and knowledge in the students of Covenant University and others in the external context so as to empower them to become wealth creators. To empower the entire community in a bid to alleviate poverty in its entire ramification.”

B. The school holds career fairs, and have an Alumni Career Services that help the school’s alum find jobs.

C. The school has Hebron startup lab, an initiative created to help student entrepreneurs successfully launch their startup into the market.

In conclusion, as Nigerians increasingly have more options for graduate and undergraduate studies, universities that yield high ROI will continue to be sought-after, and they can in turn charge premium tuition. A school must be intentional about its graduates’ employability to charge premium fees. It makes business sense then to employ the tools discussed above. With the proliferation of schools, both online and in campus programs, a school that is not intentional about proving its worth will inevitably slip into oblivion.

For consultations contact: Anne Mmeje (annemmeje@yahoo.com)

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