Educated and unemployed
Ask anyone in Pakistan and most will agree that acquiring education is a surefire way of climbing up the social ladder. Ask seasoned economists and they might beg to differ. This week, an article in the Financial Times on higher education in China casts doubt over the role of education as a poverty-panacea. Since the 1990s, Chinese universities, once elite institutions, liberalised their student recruitment policy, resulting in an all-time record of 6.6 million university enrollments by 2010. However, bias against rural students persists to date, as the lack of qualified teachers and insufficient funding in rural schools means the students cannot compete for places in high-ranking urban universities, and have to settle for low-ranking educational institutions. And its not as if the rural students paid lower fees even in sub-standard universities. In fact, many aspiring rural families pile on significant debt to finance their childrens education. Yet, many aren able to find appropriate use of their acquired knowledge in suitable jobs, especially in rural areas and the utility of a tertiary-level education against instant gains through employment are being questioned. The increasing skepticism with higher education in China may start mirroring in Pakistan too. Higher education in the country had been rapidly promoted a few years back, with several private universities, by no means cheap, springing up in the country. The number of university enrollments in the country has more than doubled from nearly 0.3 million in 2001-02 to roughly a million by 2009-10. The number of higher education institutions has also nearly doubled during the same period. While many would laud the educational strides taken by Pakistan, the spurt in educated youth at a time when economic growth is at historic lows presents a cause for concern. Low economic growth means that employment opportunities for absorbing the influx of highly educated young people are minimal, while the aspirations of these young professionals must have risen tremendously after achieving tertiary level degrees. Without the jobs to soak up this highly qualified workforce, disappointment in general is not an alien sentiment for many young Pakistanis, and there are valid fears that the resentment may cascade into substantial social unrest, sooner rather than later.If this continues, the disenchantment with education seen in China will not be uncommon in Pakistan. While China does have the GDP growth rate which promises to at least under-employ the youth of the country, the lack of adequate GDP growth in Pakistan means youth unemployment here is likely to soar. Unless real GDP growth is spurred and employment opportunities are generated, the mushrooming number of educated, dissatisfied individuals may just be a ticking time bomb for Pakistan.