Addressing Graduate Unemployment in Africa 

“The ability to confront complex problems, and to design solutions to those problems; the ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to an individual.” – Dr Patrick Awuah 

The hard truth for students graduating from higher-learning institutions in Africa is that not everyone will be employed. 

The United Nations estimates that by 2050, the African continent’s population is expected to reach 2.5 billion. More than 50% of this number will be under 25 years old. Having a young population means there will be a rise in the demand for higher education and a surge in job-seeking graduates. The onus lies on tertiary institutions not to solely prepare graduates for the world of work but also to prepare them to create jobs.   

On current unemployment rates, Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank says, “Youth unemployment must be given top priority. With 12 million graduates entering the labour market each year and only 3 million of them getting jobs, the mountain of youth unemployment is rising annually.”   

Interestingly, Africa has the highest entrepreneurship rate (22%) globally. Despite this  high rate of entrepreneurship, Africa also has the highest rate of small scale business discontinuance of 8.4%.  This is mainly because only 20% of African entrepreneurs are introducing new products and services as well as issues centered on limited access to finance and customs and trade regulations. 

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Developing entrepreneurs to reduce unemployment cannot be addressed by just one institution. Higher learning institutions and other higher education associations and bodies need to be a part of the plan to create an environment to develop the entrepreneurial acumen. Collaboration among higher education institutions, governments and regulatory bodies, donor agencies, industry players and funders is needed to forward this agenda.   

Areas of intervention for nurturing entrepreneurship driven graduates include policy regulation, skills development, entrepreneurship education, and business development support.   

Fortunately, there are higher-ed institutions on the African continent that are offering innovative solutions to building the entrepreneurship skill and have begun establishing structures and support systems to foster entrepreneurship development. This includes running core entrepreneurship curricula and venture accelerators.  For instance, Ashesi University’s Foundations of Design and Entrepreneurship Course is one of such core entrepreneurship courses. This is a one-year course taken by all freshmen. In this course, students launch ventures to gain real-world experience in business development. Also, the Ashesi Design Lab provides students with training and practice in design thinking. By participating in design thinking processes, students are launched into critical thinking and step beyond their existing boundaries to create, innovate, and grow their ideas.  

The African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius also has a great solution called Venture by ALU, a newly launched free online course designed to unleash students’ entrepreneurial potential by capturing the lessons and experiences of some of ALU’s top innovators and founders. In addition, ALU has the Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL) course. This course is a core element of the first-year program at ALU alongside other Foundational core courses. The course helps students discover the difference between becoming a great leader and being entrepreneurially oriented while teaching their importance in the 21st century.  

These solutions by institutions that are setting the pace in training career-ready students and entrepreneurial graduates are commendable and the learnings must be shared across Africa. A concerted effort by all major stakeholders in African Higher-ed is needed to propel the significant achievements that are required. In Dr. Patrick Awuah’s words, “This project of transforming Africa is not going to be done not by one institution, but by a thousand. We need to build a network of like-minded institutions… To transform African leadership, we need entire systems working together.”   

If higher learning institutions do not equip graduates to solve the world’s complex problems, who will?   

Learn about what inspired the Education Collaborative’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development here