Students facing unemployment - does a degree help?


South Africa is facing a massive problem - unemployment is rife. We're always told that a university degree is the key to a better future but Statistics South Africa has released a report that seems to refute this.

Students facing unemployment - does a degree help?

According to Stats SA's Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2018, South Africa's unemployment rate is sitting steady at 26.7% - no change since the end of 2017. Stats SA has called the number of unemployed youth a "growing concern".

“South Africa’s unemployment rate is high for both youth and adults – however, the unemployment rate among young people aged 15–34 was 38.2%, implying that more than one in every three young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2018,” it said.

“Some of these young people have become discouraged with the labour market and they are also not building on their skills base through education and training – they are not in employment, education or training (NEET).”

“The NEET rate, seen in conjunction with unemployment rates over 50%, suggests that South African young people face extreme difficulties engaging with the labour market. Certain factors such as lack of experience and length of unemployment may increase the vulnerabilities of these young people in the labour market,” it said.


While we may think that a university degree would help lift our youth out of unemployment, Stats SA says that the unemployment rate is a problem regardless of education level.


Age Group Unemployment Rate
15-24 33.5%
25-34 10.2%
35-64 4.7%


Looking at these numbers, the fact is that a university degree far from guarantees you a job. And South African graduates would agree.


In a survey carried out by The Careers Portal, 85.6% of the graduates surveyed said that they do not feel that their qualification has helped them to find work.

Many recent graduates feel trapped - forced to take work unrelated to their fields of study in order to survive or, in many cases, entirely unable to find work.

"It's just frustrating having 2 degrees but one can't seem to find work that I studied for. Work experience I have is of Admin and not in line with my qualifications," said one graduate.

Many graduates feel that government and universities need to do more to help them find work, whether by placing graduates in work experience positions or opening skills centres in townships and rural areas.


Another issue raised by graduates is the remuneration offered to interns; many feel that the R3 000 - R5 000 routinely paid to interns is not enough to cover the cost of living and call on government and business to increase this.

"Imagine a graduate who is from the Eastern Cape getting an internship or graduate programme in Joburg or Pretoria and only receiving R5 000 a month; there's rent, food and transport," said one graduate. "Honestly, education doesn't seem to be the key to success anymore. It only helps a few."

The low pay offered by internships, and the scarcity of internships in general, may prevent graduates from seeking them out, which creates another problem.


A great many graduates are struggling to find work due to their lack of experience - it is not uncommon to see an 'entry-level' post requiring 1-3 years of experience, something that graduates do not take kindly.

Based on the stats and the experience of graduates across the country, a university degree isn't the 'Get out of poverty free' card we think it is. And something needs to be done about that.

Perhaps the most poignant response was this: "All we are looking for is to be given the opportunity to improve our lives and that of our families by being given work opportunities."


[Stats SA. (2018, May 15). Youth unemployment still high in Q1: 2018. Retrieved from]




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