Studies conducted among graduates of Rhodes University (RU) and the University of Fort Hare (UFH) who completed three- or four-year bachelor degrees at the institutions between 2010 and 2011, found that coming from a poor schooling background – particularly if you’re black and female – negatively impacts a graduate’s chances of being employed after leaving university.
The unemployment rate among graduates from Rhodes, which from the sample demographic represented 57% white students and 35% black students, sat at about 7%, while the unemployment rate among UFH graduates, whose sample demographic represented 93% black students and less than 5% white students, was almost three times more, at 20%.
“The disappointing conclusion…is that race and gender, and not achievements, appear to be consistent predictors of success in the labour market,” says the paper’s first author, Dr Michael Rogan, a senior researcher at the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University.
“In other words, being female and coming from a low-income [background] carries an extra risk of unemployment.”
The glaringly disparate schooling experiences between the two sample groups – which consisted of 469 RU graduates and 742 UFH graduates – also highlighted the differences in the approach each group and racial demographic took in search of employment opportunities.
Among the RU graduates – of which about half attended former Model C schools and 30% attended private schools – the most common way in which RU graduates found work was through personal contacts and social or other networks, while 36% of UFH graduates – 53% of whom attended low-cost public schools – found work through newspaper advertisements.
The research also found that 73% of Rhodes graduates went on to be employed in the private sector, while 67% of Fort Hare graduates found employment in the private sector.
Senior Unisa lecturer Moeketsi Letseka has been particularly scathing of what he calls the labour market’s perpetual racial bias against black graduates from historically black universities.
“The labour market does not regard historically black institutions as reservoirs of quality knowledge,” Letseka was quoted as saying in a Sowetan report. “Black is synonymous with inefficiency and lack of quality, but that’s a scientifically untested argument. It’s an argument that’s predicated on racial prejudice.”
Letseka was part of the team that produced the 2010 paper entitled Student Retention and Graduate Destinations: Higher Education and Labour Market Access and Success.
Dr Rogan said the government should focus more on policy as a means to tackle the country’s exceedingly high unemployment rate.
“Rather than addressing study choices alone to reduce graduate unemployment, policy should focus on improving the match between graduates and the labour market,” he said.
“Besides interventions in poorly resourced schools, policy should focus more closely on creating links between universities and employment through, inter alia, enhanced career guidance, work placement programmes and linked bursaries.”