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Graduate unemployment in South Africa: A much exaggerated problem


  • Servaas van der Berg

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

  • Hendrik van Broekhuizen

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Servaas van der Berg & Hendrik van Broekhuizen, 2012. "Graduate unemployment in South Africa: A much exaggerated problem," Working Papers 22/2012, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers175

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Haroon Bhorat, 2004. "Labour Market Challenges In The Post-Apartheid South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 72(5), pages 940-977, December.
    2. K. Pauw & M. Oosthuizen & C. Van der westhuizen, 2008. "Graduate Unemployment In The Face Of Skills Shortages: A Labour Market Paradox," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 76(1), pages 45-57, March.
    3. Derek Yu, 2009. "The comparability of Labour Force Survey (LFS) and Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS)," Working Papers 08/2009, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nicola Branson & Amy Kahn, 2016. "The Post Matriculation Enrolment Decision: Do Public Colleges Provide Students with a Viable Alternative? Evidence from the First Four Waves of the National Income Dynamics Study," SALDRU Working Papers 182, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    2. Nicola Branson & Murray Leibbrandt, 2017. "Assessing the usability of the Western Cape Graduate Destination Survey for the analysis of labour market outcomes," SALDRU Working Papers 198, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    3. Kezia Lilenstein & Ingrid Woolard & Murray Leibbrandt, 2016. "In-Work Poverty in South Africa: The Impact of Income Sharing in the Presence of High Unemployment," SALDRU Working Papers 193, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    4. Johan Fourie, 2016. "The long walk to economic freedom after apartheid, and the road ahead," Working Papers 11/2016, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    graduate unemployment; higher education; graduate employability;

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure

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