Each LMIP Briefing is an evidence-based contribution to informing the development of a skills planning mechanism for South Africa. Briefings showcase our cutting edge research and aim to highlight key trends and potential implications from LMIP research projects.

LMIP Briefing 12

The Eastern Cape study on transitions to the labour market by university graduates

This study begins from the premise that understanding the trajectories of distinct groups of young people, by class or race or region or gender or age, is critical to inform a skills system that contributes to inclusive development. We know very little of the pathways of students through different educational institutions. We do not have reliable databases that tell us whether young people get jobs, whether these jobs are in areas related to their studies, who is more likely to find employment and who struggles to access the labour market. Aggregating individual trajectories can tell us more about the pathways of individuals through a learning institution, the effectiveness of specific types of institution, and about the alignment, blockages and flows from school through the post-school sector and into the labour market.

The results of a tracer study of the 2010 and 2011 cohorts of Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare suggest that, even among successful university graduates, schooling quality, race and gender are significantly associated with (1) successful career choices and (2) the risk of unemployment. Even after controlling for performance in matric (measured by the Senior Certificate Exams), the study trajectories of black graduates and, in particular, those who came from low quintile schools differ significantly from their peers. These two groups of graduates were significantly less likely to have completed their first choice degree and this is particularly the case for those who intended to study a Science Engineering and Technology (SET) or Commerce subject.

While the levels of unemployment among graduates from the two universities are very low compared with the working age population as a whole, there is still a higher risk of unemployment among black graduates, women, Humanities graduates and those who graduated from Fort Hare. Women who matriculated from low quintile schools face a particularly high risk of unemployment. The far higher level of unemployment among Fort Hare graduates (20 per cent) compared with Rhodes graduates (only 7 per cent) is associated with attending a low quintile school and gender. The study therefore offers only partial evidence that a degree in a general subject is an important predictor of the risk of graduate unemployment. Among those who are employed, successful job search strategies differ significantly and graduates from Rhodes are far more likely to report finding a job through a social network than graduates from Fort Hare.

On the whole, the study’s findings have important implications both for equity and for the efficiency of higher education institutions. The fact that graduates from poorer schools still carry significant disadvantages into higher education and the labour market even after graduating from a university, represents a significant waste of valuable human resources. A key policy implication is that interventions should be targeted towards learners from low quintile schools who are in the final two years of schooling, when career guidance might be most beneficial. A second policy implication is that dedicated job matching interventions at the country’s historically disadvantaged institutions may be a useful policy tool for improving the job seeking prospects of graduates who have poor social networks in the labour market.