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Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP22/2012


Increasing reference in the media and public discussions to high and rising levels of graduate unemployment in the South African labour market has raised concern about the functionality of South Africa’s higher education system and the employability of the graduates that it produces. While such references are generally premised on the findings of a handful of published research studies that have made reference to rising graduate unemployment, the results of those studies are subject to a number of criticisms, ranging from inadequate definitions of “graduates” to the use of incomplete, dated, or unrepresentative data. This paper reviews the existing evidence on graduate unemployment in South Africa and analyses levels of, and trends in, graduate unemployment in the country since 1995. To overcome the deficiencies of previous studies, “graduates” are explicitly defined as individuals with bachelor’s degrees or equivalents and higher educational qualifications (honours, Masters, and doctorate degrees) and all of the available nationally representative labour force survey data for South Africa between 1995 and 2011 is exploited. In contrast to what appears to be a growing consensus regarding the extent of graduate unemployment in the country, the analysis conducted shows no evidence of a high level or a markedly upward trend in graduate (i.e. degreed) unemployment. Instead levels and rates of graduate unemployment are found to be quite low in an international context, revealing that there is little cause for concern about broad trends in graduate unemployment.

graduate unemployment, higher education, graduate employability

JEL Classification:
I23, J01, J21