By George Davis,Guest Golumnist
Approximately 70,000 Jamaicans are attending tertiary institutions both locally and regionally, more than at any time in Jamaica's 50 years as an independent nation.
The country is broke, and has been so for some time now, yet no government would even consider removing the hefty subsidy at the tertiary level. A quality workforce and a strong intellectual class have been good to Jamaica since 1962 and will continue to be so as national borders are made redundant by technology and globalisation.
Fifty-year-old Jamaica, who's spent so much of her years trying to shoot herself to death, now finds herself in an economic sinkhole. The lazy and the dim-witted among us don't bother to think about how we really got here, when it's so easy to pin the blame on the peas in a pod, the PNP and JLP. But what a job they've done in facilitating our best and brightest in accessing the promised land of a university education.
An examination of the quality of tertiary graduates and their contribution to the Jamaican workforce is almost certain to spark a debate about whether they are worth the billions spent by Government to subsidise their education and training.
Up to 2010, the Government was spending $14 billion per annum on 60,000 students across all institutions at the tertiary level. This is the equivalent of 80-85 per cent of the economic cost of tertiary education, with the student having to foot the remainder. Approximately $12 billion was spent at the secondary level, $7 billion at primary schools, and $2 billion at the early childhood level.
There's always been strident criticism that the spend is inadequate at the tertiary level and must be increased to facilitate greater access. But men lie, women lie. Numbers don't. A debt-stricken country whose subsidy allows its brightest students to pay only 15 cents of every dollar charged for tertiary education cannot reasonably be accused of making an inadequate contribution.
Twenty-first century Jamaica is demanding a tertiary graduate with a range of skills and competencies beyond the narrow field of study which they've pursued during their university years. Employers are demanding a graduate with worth beyond the piece of paper which lists the quality of degree he or she holds.
Tertiary students must use their time in university to build themselves into the kind of employee to which suitors will come. Too many university students go through those very important years focusing solely on securing an honours degree for graduation.
But the prospective employer will ask, beyond the first-class honour, what makes you a better prospect than someone else from your batch with the same degree? What are those things you pursued in university which put you in position to add greater value than your 40 other counterparts who also have a first-class honour in the discipline?
It would be interesting to hear from companies like GraceKennedy and Digicel how many thousand applications they receive each year from official or prospective graduates. How many of these résumés are basically the same, with nothing to communicate that the applicant may be able to enhance the organisation's business?
Great workers needed
The tertiary student needs to be told that now is not the time to form the fool. Government is paying far too much for them to focus only on getting a degree. The Jamaican workforce in the 21st century has no need for good students. It requires great workers, people with imagination, innovation and initiative.
Institutions can assist the process by placing as much focus on orientation at the sophomore and final years of study, as is placed on the freshman year. Those already in the system should be told, bluntly, that university is more than just earning a degree and then taking on a job. They should be reminded of the importance of building themselves into well-rounded, versatile and adaptable prospects.
For the huge bill that taxpayers foot annually, every student must be able to step into an organisation and after learning the ropes, demonstrate clearly the difference between themselves, as university graduates, and someone else who's not had that privilege.
George Davis is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.