If you thought graduate unemployment is a big problem here in Sri Lanka think again. In China, 40% of new graduates are expected to be unemployed in 2006 translating to an astounding 2.5 million new graduates without jobs. Similar rates are reported from the Philippines. We donâ€™t have statistics for other countries but, generally, unemployment of graduates seems to be a severe problem all over the developing world.
In Sri Lanka our birth rate for public university graduates seem to be just about what we can afford. In 2005/6 China and Philippines produced 3 and 5 graduates per capita, respectively. In Sri Lanka the number barely reached 1, even when we included a guesstimate of about additional 5000 graduates from private institutions. There is no reason to catch up with China or Philippines because we already know they are in trouble. Just how many graduates capita can Sri Lanka absorb?
Last year, the â€˜Sandhanaâ€™ government said they absorbed a backlog of 40,000 unemployed graduates. Will these graduates would have found employment if they had the right attitude, skills etc.? Probably not, if they were expecting jobs that paid them a graduateâ€™s salary.
In 2004, public universities put out 10,477 graduates (ugc.ac.lk). In the same year there were about 1046 advertised positions for graduates. (These demand data do not include the bulk number of jobs that the government may create at its pleasure) It is said that many jobs are offered and accepted by word of mouth, but it very likely that these jobs, particularly jobs requiring a degree or more, will go to foreign educated Sri Lankans from well-to-do families who are already wired to these networks. Therefore it is safe to assume that the advertised jobs are the only ones that are available to a graduate from a public university.
Even the few advertised jobs almost always require prior experience. 2005, the year following the Tsunami, was an unusual year with 3503 job ads with 90% of those requiring prior job experience (Labour Market Information Bulletins, Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission). Our own analysis of newspaper advertisements for the month of June in 2006 shows that the situation may have not changed significantly from 2004 and that the percent of advertised jobs for graduates but requiring experience can be as high as 90%..
The message is clear. If you must, go get a degree but unless you â€˜work-while-you-studyâ€™ or â€˜study-while-you-workâ€™ your chances of â€˜realâ€™ employment are slim. (The government may still whip up some government jobs and bail you out).
The Chinese government was able to estimate supply and demand for graduates, and initiate at least an awareness campaign (www.nytimes.com/2006/06/22/world/asia/22china). Not so in Sri Lanka. The University Grants commisison (UGC) is still unable to tell the public the real picture about the demand and supply. Big bucks have been allocated for a labour market observatory at the UGC. Let us hope the observatory can help us move beyond pipe dreams.
Public sector output in 2004 was 10,477. Private sector outputs is a guesstimate
GDP and Population:
World Bank, 2004
Graduates per year: