The aim of the study was to determine whether the training provided by universities offering agricultural economics degree programmes, is in line with the skills set required by the employers of agricultural economics graduates. In order to achieve this objective, a survey was conducted among the eight universities in South Africa that offer agricultural economics related subjects for degree purposes namely, the University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Free State, Fort Hare, North West and Venda. Out of the eight universities, responses were received from six with no response coming from North West and Venda. Furthermore, a tracer survey was conducted among the alumni who attended these universities. This was to determine a different perspective to the quality of training in various programmes as presented by the Heads of Departments. The study established the different skills considered important for the success of the agricultural economics graduates in the work place. These are computer skills, soft skills (commonly known as interpersonal skills), business and basic agricultural economics skills. In order to have an effective workforce and efficiency in the workplace, majority of these skills should be developed during the undergraduate study at university level. The results obtained from the surveys amongst the universities indicated that the Heads of Departments were relatively satisfied with the basic skills their students had attained upon graduation. However, trading on South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX), tax planning and giving reliable advice to farmers, as well as applied welfare analysis are common areas that required attention and improvement throughout all the universities. The graduates were rated high in soft skills, computer and basic agricultural economics skills by the HOD’s. However, remarks were made about the students’ inability to communicate effectively in English especially, those whose home language is not English. The survey showed that 50% of the graduates’ spoke Afrikaans as a home language while only 8% were native English speakers. This is in line with the research conducted by Gough (2009) showing that only 10% of South Africans speak English as a home language. This statistic suggests the need for students to develop strong communication skills in English.
Universities are perceived by the alumni to provide quality training and learning. However, the overall consensus is that universities focus their learning more on agricultural sciences rather than agricultural practice, a notion shared by Mafunzwaini, Thahane and Worth (2003). The universities offer various teaching methods, which include theoretical models and a few practical concepts. The alumni in the study revealed that more agricultural case studies should be incorporated into the study programmes. Case studies would offer future agricultural economists the knowledge and advantage of solving real-world problems. Some universities regularly invite industry professionals to give presentations to their students as a way of giving ‘real world’ experience of the industry. Mentorships and internships are value added programmes that require more attention and better coordination into the agricultural economics departments.
A large percentage of the alumni (43%) qualified with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (BSc Agric) degree, followed by 7% in Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) and 4% in Bachelor of Agriculture (BAgric) degrees. Although, the overall perception on the quality of teaching received by the alumni was positive, they still experienced gaps in the training they acquired from the universities. Time management, problem-solving, analytical, advanced statistical skills and practical experience, were expressed as concepts not efficiently developed within their training that would have increased their rate of success in the workplace. The study also matched the skills set required by industry (acquired from the AGRIMASS survey, 2012) with the skills produced by universities established from the university survey. The skills match to a high degree. Although, the major concern for most employers was the lack of certain key personal and / or soft skills in the workplace. These skills according to the response of the alumni are unfortunately not extensively developed within the curricula offered by the university teaching programme.
Overall, the results show that graduates are relatively pleased with the teaching received at the various agricultural economics departments. However, some improvement needs to be done to include personal and communication skills which are extensively required by employers. Strong collaborations should be formed between the agricultural economics departments, employers and the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA) in terms of establishing the proper requirements for employable agricultural economists. Students should be allowed to take up a comprehensive role within this collaboration of the universities and workplace, so as to establish solid roles for the profession and produce qualified talents into the industry.
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2015.