When you have a university degree, the assumption is that you are intellectually above the average trader who thinks in inches and yards to measure window curtains at Kantamanto. The degree holder thinks in degrees of scholarship, analytical power and intellectual aptitude, which should guarantee a degree of comfort. However, some university graduates are worse than the curtains in their windows. Instead of the anticipated great jobs, they remain unemployed.
Have you noticed how the adjective ‘prestigious’ has suddenly stopped qualifying the noun ‘degree’? We don’t have prestigious degrees anymore. Degrees these days are as affordable as village prostitutes during a harvest season. Everybody seems to have a degree or two, sometimes three.
Not just a degree
I had acquired two degrees in Ghana before I applied to the British High Commission in Accra for a student visa, to study some more in the UK. At the interview, the entry clearance officer asked me why I needed a third degree when I hadn’t done any serious work with my present qualifications. I had prepared an answer before the interview, so I managed to convince him.
I would confess that among several other things, the reason I traveled abroad was to decorate my CV with a foreign qualification. I succeeded in adding more from Europe and North America to my degree portfolio. I have been trying for a PhD with the determination of a man with a low sperm count hoping for twins.
At what cost have I attained the degrees, and how best have they served me so far? These are questions many Ghanaians studying abroad ask themselves daily. Let’s understand that there are times a degree ceases to be a qualification. A qualification is the visa that employers demand to hire the degree holder. The degree itself is a passport; it requires a visa. And like any visa, the employment visa runs out. So does the passport.
A foreign student manages the expectations of relatives and friends back home who need their share of the foreign currency. There are also funeral contributions and monthly tithes. To save money, some students live on gari and shito daily, even though chicken is very cheap in London and New York. Some of the ladies are not able to sustain the natural growth of their hair, because they eat rice and ketchup every day to save money.
Hard life abroad
The life of the foreign student is like a tragedy set in the graveyard. They work overtime in the night and go to school in the morning to sleep during lectures. Very few of the ladies wear stockings and hair extensions. The men maintain one shaving machine for a year and do not care very much about the soles of their shoes. Those who have children forfeit new boxer shorts for baby pampers.
The jobs differ. It ranges from polishing the teeth of horses at a stable to caring for a disabled septuagenarian who has to be fed and wiped after visiting the toilet. The VIP job is security. You work, dose and manage to study at the same time under the watchful eye of a white supervisor who has no idea what an MBA stands for. After the shift in the morning, he runs to catch a bus or train to lectures. He had not had a shower so he did not change his underpants. The ladies manage with a scruffy hair and manicure is never necessary.
Research has shown that about 51% of students who study abroad return home. Most of them do find great jobs. My roommate in London found a great job that comes with everything except a wife. I can’t tell whether his foreign degrees gave him any advantage over those with home brewed qualifications.
We have lived with the myth that foreign degree holders are better trained than those trained locally. Many of our political leaders and company bosses were trained abroad. We wonder: Do they work with the foreign degrees or they rely on local knowledge? Do the holders of foreign degrees leave behind the spirit of the degrees and fly home with a hollow paper? Maybe, degrees–foreign or local–do not matter. It is the individual who holds the qualification that counts.
What is the quality of life of the near 50% of foreigners who remain abroad after their studies? It is sometimes difficult to tell, because they blend in easily. They look like parliamentarians when they are driving to work. You would meet them at the receptions of organisations, gently seated as security officers. The ladies drive good cars to care homes to cook for drug addicts.
Thankfully, there are some foreigners doing fantastic jobs. I have met Ghanaian judges, corporate bankers and entrepreneurs. The successful ones would immediately let you know where they work. The trick is that when they don’t tell you what they do, they are probably doing one of the unmentionables.
No jobs here, please
Foreign students are usually turned down for employment because they have too many degrees but poor CVs. Employers in the West do not want degrees; they want experienced people to do the job. A few minorities are called for interview as a kind gesture to qualify a racist company as an equal opportunities employer. With four (4) degrees, the foreigner gets a job meant for A’ level students. Soon, he realises he is underutilising his enormous capabilities. Frustration sets in. He has been abroad for five (5) years. He has not built a house yet.
As he continues to flip-flop between going home and staying in the cold, he is ageing past the employable age. Employers are like pedophiles; they want fresh blood, not grey pubic hairs. Meanwhile, his colleagues back home are developing big careers and have already started their third house. He damns the West and heads back home. If his wife decides to stay behind, it turns the home plan asunder. A man is a man, so he damns the wife, damns McDonalds and damns the Queen. Ghana, here we come! Welcome home, but there are no jobs here.
Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org)