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Why millennials are no longer turned on by Master's Degrees

By Brian Guserwa | September 19th 2021

There is something about putting on that gown and cap, walking up to the podium and receiving your postgraduate degree. Adding MSc to your title, calling yourself a fellow, or reminding someone who just called you Mr that it is actually ‘Doctor’. You did not waste your years and your hairline defending papers just for people to call you ‘Mr’
For a long time, taking that extra step beyond a Bachelor’s degree has been viewed as a preserve of the few. Whether simply because those four years often feel like six, and finally finishing is a significant achievement on its own, or because there is more to life than lecture halls, a lot of young people tend to view postgraduate study as a luxury.

The perception of Masters and PhD study as an elite club has certainly had its appeal for some. Brian Okeja, a Master of Science in Human Resource Management student at MMUST, always saw it as a path to the top.
“Education is the shield to poverty, the shield to ignorance, the shield to diseases and the pathway to prosperity,” he says. 

Adding that, “I have always been inspired to further my education to get hold of this golden shield. The process of choosing where to go was guided by my personal ambition and inspiration to be one of the best Human Resource Managers of my time in my field.”

Ernest Murwa had already decided to proceed with his studies while in his third year of university.
“I felt, even then, that I needed to further my education. Studying comes with holding a prestigious position in the society. I come from a marginalized area, Lamu County, where academic role models are rare to find. I wanted to be a face that students from the area could look upto,” Murwa said.

One of the factors that held Murwa back, besides the not-insignificant school fees, was the widely-held belief that Masters is for older people.

“Some of my peers view it as an education level for the ‘elders’- those who are over 30s - and sometimes I am forced to keep it to myself that I am taking a masters degree because they think I enrolled for the course too soon after undergraduate studies,” he says.

Indeed, a lot more young people prefer to give themselves a bit of a break before going back to school. To live a little, maybe sow a few oats here and there, or simply to get some work experience before diving back into books.
“It’s tricky, because there is always the possibility that you won’t be able to get back to it,” says Purity Andole, who is finishing up a Health Science MSc. 

“I know so many people who took that break, but then life happened, and it just got too complicated to go back to school. I have heard some of them say they outgrew academics, that it would be hard for them to take their minds back to the classroom, and I understand completely,” she says.

Increasingly, young people are choosing to forego postgraduate studies completely. The benefits of having that extra certificate seem to be shrinking, even as the process of acquiring it just got more complicated for many.
“I was on the fence,” says James Maina, who is now three years out of his undergraduate degree. 
“I have been planning to go back for a while now, but I have been running a successful farming business too, and I have never really used the one certificate I have, so I didn’t think it was necessary.”

But then, earlier this year, a handful of universities, led by the University of Nairobi, made changes to their fee requirements, and in doing so, made a lot of people’s minds up for them.
“It’s not practical to spend nearly a million shillings on a piece of paper that may not change my life in a significant way. Considering the hassle of doing online classes and everything else I have to do on a daily basis, it’s simply not something I can do,” Maina says.

The situation in the job market is another cause for concern. The number of jobless candidates with postgraduate degrees is alarming. 

We have primary school teachers with PhDs, matatu operators with Masters degrees, and restaurant cooks with distinctions in very different fields. An extra year in school may no longer guarantee you that dream job.
Dan Ndolo is a job recruiter and co-founder of Kaya Talent, an agency which connects employers with prospective candidates. According to Ndolo, academic qualifications are important, but employers are increasingly looking beyond them.

He says, “Papers are important, yes. Academic qualifications get candidates through the first stages of filtering. However, it’s important to know that the qualifications only allow you into the door, how you sell your skills and experience accounts for 99.9 percent of you getting an offer.”

“Creativity and innovation are more important. Having the ability to solve problems and with little resources while at it. A mix of theory and practical application is most desired, but practical application trumps everything if it comes down to it. Most managers will simply want to know how well the candidate can handle the responsibilities in the role.”
Jeff Israel Nthiwa, a life and career coach, believes that education should not take center stage in one’s life.
“Going back to school should be in terms of your goals and objectives,” Nthiwa says. “It should meet a need that you have in your life.”

He advises against going back to school just for the sake of it.
“Education should support your vision, who you want to be in your life. If you get a new job, for example, which requires a new set of skills, then you should go back to school to get them. The perception exists that a Masters or PHD makes you better, but the fact is, your ability has little to do with education. 

“There are people who don’t need to go to school. Education does not make you important or significant.”
“When you look at life and society, the most successful people are not the most educated. They tend to be average in terms of academia. Society has conditioned us to think that school makes you successful. 
“In reality, success is more about who you are as a person, your values, commitment, and your vision. A lot of successful people even dropped out of school, but they had a vision. Education doesn’t empower us to make an impact unless you have a vision.”

Still, the best time to go back is now, he insists. And according to Mr Ndolo, there is a nice way to balance out your job application, whether or not you have those extra certificates.

“Candidates with less papers need to network more and make sure that people in their network know what they are capable of. The academic-heavy candidates need to invest more time in getting things done so they don’t get frustrated when theoretical knowledge does not translate to a practical situation when it comes to it.”
It seems, though, that the idea of being addressed as ‘Doctor’ may have lost some of its sheen.



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