Last Friday, the Mail and Guardian reported that the ANC has tabled plans to force all tertiary graduates to enter into state internships after completing their studies. This isn’t exactly news. I wrote a post not so long ago about these plans, but I thought I’d spend a little more time explaining why this can’t work, and try to offer a more analytical critique, instead of just passing snide remarks.
One of the first things that I try to tell any student when they first start writing argumentative essays is that they should refrain from making sweeping assumptions. For example, don’t claim that all South Africans have Blackberries. It might be true that all your friends have Blackberries, or that everyone you know uses a Blackberry, but that doesn’t constitute the entire population, so instead, you should say that many South Africans own Blackberries. This prevents you from being wrong and provides a buffer that acknowledges you understand the actual statistics of the cell phone industry in South Africa. Unfortunately, the ANC appear to making this mistake by assuming that all tertiary education is the same. By declaring that all gradutes would be required to enter into state internships presumes that all degrees and diplomas offer students a specific type of training that can be translated directly into the workplace. Sadly, this is far from reality, especially when dealing with the humanities.
While doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants could slide quite easily into various internships (they already do to a certain degree), it becomes more of a challenge for those of us who did not study a professional ‘trade’. Personally, I did a degree specialising in Media, English and Ethics – yes, I can hear you all screaming journalist – but none of these subjects actually aimed to teach practical skills, especially English and Ethics. The aim of these subjects, for the most part, was to teach one to think, analyse and comment on various issues. Even Media, which so many assume is orientated around television and print journalism, has closer relations to Cultural Studies and Philosophy than it does to media training. So in reality, I learnt how to discuss the implications (both good and bad) of Lady Gaga’s dress-sense in relation to society’s representations of feminity. Employable, right?
You have to remember that the humanities were designed, hundreds of years ago, as a field for society’s elite. It was for those upperclass aristocrats – usually women – who didn’t have to work and just wanted to help supplement their conversational abilities in the arts and foreign languages. It was never meant as a way to train employees.
Now, ignoring my last point, and assuming that my BA had equipped me for the communications world in a way that the ANC believes it could, there are another two major problems with their plan. Firstly, there are thousands of university graduates each year, add on another few thousand for diplomas, and even more for correspondence courses. I’m led to believe that UNISA has over 9 000 communications graduates each year. Technically, it’s a flooded field and there are only so many communications jobs out there, especially in state-run communications. Blade Nzimande, however, argues that internships would function as compulsory community service for graduates, and once completed, interns would be ‘absorbed into that service within the public sector’. It’s a noble proposition, if not disturbingly naive, to say the least. Here’s the problem: we currently don’t have enough jobs, so how does the ANC propose to create thousands of internships around the country, that would then result in permenant employment? If they can do this, then why haven’t they been able to solve the current employment problems?
Secondly, it seems unlikely, for the same reasons, that the government would be able to fund such internships. Granted, medical interns and legal article clerks don’t earn enormous salaries, but they don’t work for free either. In addition, medical graduates are also re-located and often live in flats, hostels, or digs, partly, if not wholly, funded by their employers. So again I ask, how does the ANC propose to put this into practice? Where will they get the extra funds, and where will all these displaced graduates live? In essence, how do they propose that these community servants live once assigned a post? It seems to me that this plan has no real foresight, and absolutely no long-term consideration.
All this points to the unfortunate truth, and one which few people wish to acknowledge – an over-priced piece of paper does not ensure a good employee, good, solid experience does. That’s really where all this stems from, I believe. Employers want recruits that know how to function in the business environment, tertiary education does not necessarily do this, and the government sees internships as a way to deal with this issue. Years ago, if you wanted to become a lawyer, you would work as an ‘apprentice’ of sorts, learn on the job, and finally wrote an exam which tested to see if you were equipped to be admitted. Instead of university training, you were guided by a mentor and practising legal instructor. A University degree was more about highlighting your financial status and still had to be supplemented by practical training before you could be admitted. Today, while a degree is essential, you still have to complete your articles before you can be admitted.
Unfortunately, society has become so concerned with status that many have forgotten that experience is just as, if not more important, than having a tertiary qualification. This is part of the reason, I’m sure, that the ANC believe that this is the solution. However, the problem doesn’t lie entirely with misconceptions about degrees. Mostly, it lies in the quality of our high school qualifications. Overall, they have become redundant and a tertiary certificate/diploma/degree is needed to help prove that we are literate, then alone trained in a specific field. Perhaps if we raised the quality of our high school education, and didn’t consider 30% a pass, more employers would be open to hiring high school graduates and give them on-the-job training, rather than relying on ill-equipped mediocrity.
Bottom line though, tertiary education should not be seen as a inequitable right. Basic education is. Universities are places that should harness the collective intelligence of the creme-de-la-creme of society’s academically gifted. If we don’t acknowledge this, we will fail to appreciate those who are gifted in other areas, like farming or carpentry. Academics is not meant for everyone, just like playing for the Springboks is not possible for everyone. I can write, so this is perfect for me, but ask me to build a house and I’m a complete imbecile, just like many students appear because this is not meant for them. So instead of trying to fix the problem after the fact, perhaps the ANC should try to add value to apprenticeships, high school education and leave internships to those who will actually benefit society, like doctors, not experts in Lady Gaga.
|This doesn’t really relate to this post, but it’s funny|
It was a little while back (not sure when, I’ve been a little pre-occupied with a little pain) the South African Minister of Higher Education, in his infinite wisdom (I use wisdom loosely here) proposed that all South African university graduates have to undergo community service to complete their degrees, just like doctors are required to do. Now I have two issues with this.
First, most university students (and eventual graduates) can barely spell their name (I’ve actually had students hand in assignments with their names spelt incorrectly), or think that they are some super pop diva, so they only write their first name on everything. Sorry, but I have no clue who Bethany or Apple Pie is (and seriously, you need to sue your parents for stupidity or torture – I actually have a student whose name is Swastika). And our Minister wants to send these geniuses into the community to do God knows what.
This is where my second point comes in. While some degrees do give you a skill, most humanities and social science degrees, don’t actually train you to do anything. You just spent thousands on a piece of paper that doesn’t qualify you to do anything. And if you disagree, maybe our Minister could please tell me what type of community service a person who has a degree in Classics and Philosophy would engage in? I seriously can’t quite picture farming with community members and telling them how everything they are farming doesn’t really exist, but it’s ok because we ourselves are just a mere construction of social representations. Hmmm…. Maybe I under-estimated ol’ Blade. Maybe this is some massive ploy to cull the population. Realising you don’t really exist is rather depressing, and I’m sure with mass poverty there are thousands of suicidal depressants out there. This could finally send them over the edge. Poverty solved, they’ll all kill themselves after two minutes with a bunch of humanities’ ‘experts’. And if they don’t, we could just offer them administrative jobs at my uni. They’ll kill themselves and everyone around them after a week of dealing with the mass incompetence that abounds these hallowed halls of ‘Premier scholarship’.