Dan Kgwadi – VIce Chancellor of the University of the North-West
‘Every year, over 100 000 prospective students apply to study at the North-West University. We only have about 10 000 spaces for new students; thus, we unfortunately cannot accept most applications.
‘Some of our students who manage to complete their first degrees also face challenges of finding employment or business opportunities. These students end up opting to study further which we encourage. However, we would prefer that they study for post-graduate degrees for the purpose of knowledge accumulation but not as an alternative for employment or business.”
These are the words of Prof Dan Kgwadi, the vice-chancellor of the North-West University. He asks: ‘What is this picture going to look like ten years from now? On the one hand, will there still not be enough study opportunities for everyone, but on the other hand, will there be enough job opportunities?’
Kgwadi says that universities and schools need to work together much more closely to ensure that every child receives proper career guidance – which will entail not simply steering them in a direction based on their aptitude test results alone, but also carefully considering the current and future job market as well as the new industries
‘Unfortunately, it is especially the underprivileged and vulnerable students who often don’t receive the necessary support to make these important decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. They have the misguided belief that any degree, no matter which one, will be their golden ticket out of unemployability. But, who can they really turn to for advice? Their parents and other family members are themselves often excluded from the economy and they mostly don’t have access to resources like occupational psychologists who can help. Many students end up making uninformed choices that don’t serve them or their end goals.
‘Studying simply to study won’t solve the unemployment crisis in South Africa. If universities really wanted to, we could offer a degree in how to kill dinosaurs. What use will it be?’ says Kgwadi.
Kgwadi reiterates that the subjects offered by universities won’t necessarily land you a career. ‘Universities do not only cater for learners who study with the end goal of being employed; they also cater for people who want to increase their knowledge in certain subjects, whether it be for self-development or simply because it’s an interest. Not every subject is necessarily going to be career-driven. It is up to students to consider their interests and goals when they choose a degree, but more than that, to research the job market and the potential business opportunities, and to ensure that their choice will serve their purpose.
‘Students also have to think ahead when they choose a degree. How is the job market going to change ten years from now? What jobs will cease to exist? Is their study field still going to be relevant in the future?’ asks Kgwadi. ‘It is now more important than ever to have a clear road map of where your chosen career is going to lead you in the next ten years and beyond. We can’t only look and consider the world around us anymore; but we must also envision the future and try to envision ourselves and what we are going to be doing in that future’.
Kgwadi admits that universities have a lot of work ahead to ensure that students are properly trained for the future. ‘We need to look at what we are offering students and how it will serve them ten years from now. Teaching entrepreneurial skills to students, for example, has been part of our curriculum for a long time, but we are also looking at things like coding and artificial intelligence, and how students can use these to supplement their studies’.
The digital age will also create more opportunities that won’t require a university degree. Skills like computer programming and coding will increasingly play a huge role, and these skills can be acquired without attending a university. ‘Learners must focus on learning skills rather than just pursuing qualifications that might be rendered useless in future.’
Although there are no clear answers to what our country is going to look like ten years from now, we can work with what we do know. We need a clear path to plan the way forward and a meeting of minds, which will include input from the education-, corporate- and government sectors to ensure that we make the best choices now that will benefit us then.