Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Are degrees failing Jamaica?

Published:Wednesday | March 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Sashakay Fairclough
A welder works on the construction of cubicles. Jamaican students should focus more on vocational training, such as welding, baking and tailoring, writes Sashakay Fairclough.

It is better to fail at something you love than inevitably fail at something you don't particularly like. I wish I had known this expression when I was in high school.

I doubt I would be a lawyer now, especially if I had known how saturated the legal industry was becoming. Most of the young attorneys, and even barristers, I know are unemployed or have been forced to find jobs outside of the profession.

I managed to complete my law degree, and even managed to pass the notoriously difficult Bar of England and Wales. I distinctly remember one day when a law tutor stood in front of our majority-white class and said 'ethnic' people rarely do well in life because, based on scientific research, they have smaller brains.

He always made quite racist comments, so I, along with another black student, challenged his asinine remark. Though I disagreed with him immensely, my thoughts inevitably moved to the young people in Jamaica. I wished for them to have promising futures right at home so they would not feel compelled to move to other countries for their mere survival.

Many are of the opinion that the way to escape hardship is through an expensive piece of paper popularly known as a degree. When our government decided to follow the Western world (against our best interests) and encourage the majority of school leavers to go to university, the job market was flooded with degrees, making them less exclusive and, essentially, devaluing them.

The difficult truth is that too many students are going to university. I become exasperated when I listen to inane mumblings of ineffective politicians who are out of touch with the people of this country. They have no clue about what many are facing, so they continue to encourage the youth to chase university dreams.

The politically correct claptrap is not improving the lives of our young. The vast majority will only end up with a piece of paper, extensive debt and no real prospect of employment.




Academics should no longer be put above technical learning. The world is changing. A university education is no longer the way to escape poverty. In fact, it appears to bring persons closer to it. It is simply not the great equaliser anymore. Over the last 20 years, tuition fees have inflated at a rate greater than that of health-care costs, yet the value of a degree has decreased significantly.

Most people take courses that will rarely lead them to the path they envisaged when initially choosing it. Medical, engineering and scientific careers should be encouraged, but political studies, music, history, media and the rest are all a waste of time, as so many are painfully finding out. Most people are far better off just going to a community college and getting a 'manual' job, as there simply aren't enough jobs for the number of graduates coming out of university each year.

The late George Carlin said that inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist. We are unconsciously creating disappointed young people. They feel like failures when they realise that the world is not what they were taught it would be. Youth unemployment is hovering at 30 per cent and more than half of university graduates work in positions that do not require a degree. A large portion of the other half do not work at all!

Steering everyone towards a degree in these times is a tremendous mistake. There needs to be an increase in vocational training so guidance can be provided for future trades people in order to meet our country's needs.

We need to start programmes in all schools that teach entrepreneurial skills, such as baking, tailoring, fish farming, money management, photography, jewellery making and others. That will teach them the knowledge of acquiring money.

It is auspicious that our prime minister has put someone in charge of education who is an ex-principal. We need people to unlock the genius in our youth and make sure they reach their potential. It will not, and should not, always be academic. It is time that the higher-education industry desist from misleading the public about its benefits.

I am guardedly optimistic about the future of my country. However, I want young people to understand that they are responsible for their own future. They need to do thorough research into any industry that they are interested in.

Not all degrees are equal. Look for courses that are relevant in today's society that can create the foundation for a job.

- Sashakay Fairclough is a barrister, freelance journalist and mentor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.