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Somali Graduates Are Working In Non-Graduate Jobs
It was a longish wait at the bus stop and there was no sign of any bus coming along. I was in the middle of a long queue waiting to board a bus; as luck would have it, I was in no hurry to get home. Suddenly three buses appeared in procession as if though they just came out from a monotonous meeting. I hopped on the second bus and saw a familiar face behind the wheel, Mr Ali, an old friend of mine.
I was saddened to see him driving a double-decker bus because I remember his only ambition in life was to be an academic success. The last time I saw him was three years ago and he was in the penultimate year studying economics and politics. He was a highly gifted student and his friends felt rather like students in the presence of a professor when they were with him.
We quickly exchanged hellos and I asked him how he had ended up behind the wheel. He scratched nervously at an irritating spot on one side of his face below the eye and said, “I am about to finish my shift now. There is a nice cafe, so please do come and touch base with me.”
We walked to a café. Ali ordered a hamburger and chips, with which he covered in ketchup and nibbled it like a man eating his first meal after fasting two consecutive days. And I ordered a tea. “You asked me a question which is very close to my heart. Where would you like me to start?” Ali asked me after he had finished his meal. The following is the gist of our conversation which highlights the poignant realities that Somali graduates from the UK universities are experiencing.
The challenges that these graduates face did not start at the graduate labour market but started long before they have even finished their high schools. Most of these degree holders are victims of a civil war and refugees in this country. English is not their first language and most of them are from low income families. Their parents do not understand the UK education system.
Some of them are from broken families and have lived in poor housing conditions. A large number of them might have lived in other European countries before coming to the UK and coming to finish their education in the UK presents great deal of challenges. Some of these graduates have experienced bullying and racial harassment. After a three-year-course, they are expected to pay back the loans - an average of £10,000 - they have taken out to pay for their fees and living expenses.
Despite them facing serious social, economic and linguistic barriers, these graduates completed their education with sheer determination by doing few classes here and few classes there as they moved around a lot. Some of them could be described as transient pupils. Their purpose of university was not to be frozen out from the employment market, but they have found out that being from a marginalised ethnic community a degree would not give you a head start.
It is almost every student’s dream to go to a higher education to get higher social status and income; however that dream is not true for Somali graduates. According to the Government's Department of Education and Skills, today's graduates can expect to earn a modest £120,000 more across their entire lifetime, than those with two A-levels who go straight into employment. This report has not clearly taken into account Somali graduates, as most of them are not doing graduate jobs. In fact, a significant number of Somali graduates, those who are lucky enough to have jobs, are working in non-graduate jobs earning as little as non-graduate workers earn, while others are still dreaming highly paid jobs although they are unemployed. Sadly, a report published by Prospects, the UK’s official graduate careers, said, “Graduates unemployed six months after graduation spent longer periods unemployed and had lower future earnings.” Does this mean that their degrees have been of no advantage whatsoever?
Since most of these graduates are either unemployed or hold jobs that do not require a university degree, they are seriously exploring the potential of self-employment as an option. The Institute for Employment Studies says, “The graduate labour market is changing, and with no promises of linear corporate careers, self-employment offers wider opportunities.” They have the will to succeed, but there is little evidence to support that they have the necessary skills to develop successful trading businesses or micro-enterprises as most of them do not have any experience of self-employment.
The disadvantage that graduates are facing could have negative influence on those who are yet to reach the age of higher education. Parents normally encourage their children to go to university as a way in which labour market disadvantage can be overcome. But when the older children, who have finished universities, are unemployed or feel slightly underemployed in their current job young children may feel that they should leave school at 16 and get an apprenticeship as a mechanic. This may lead the whole community to face perpetual forms of exclusion and marginalisation.
Universities attempt to trace where graduates end up. However there is no mechanism to gather data where Somali graduates go after university and the main reason is that Somalis are not classified as a separate ethnic group like Indians or Bangladeshis. Since there is no systematic monitoring evidence that can expose the disadvantage faced by Somali graduates their problem has never been addressed properly.
Ali and I neared at the end of our conversation. We noticed the waiter circling around us, which meant it was almost closing time. Vainly wishing we would have more time, we departed sleepily and went our separate ways probably thinking how Somali graduates can enter and progress in the labour market.