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New Diplomas and No Jobs: Transforming Identities and Social Relationships Among University Graduates in Uganda

Faculty Investigator: Margaret Frye (

Description of Research Project:

Three decades ago, Makerere University was the only university in Uganda and it attracted a largely homogeneous population of male urban elites. Today, Uganda has more than 40 universities, and in the capital city of Kampala, the proportion aged 25-29 who are university graduates increased from 2% in 1995 to over 40% in 2016. Yet this expansion in education has corresponded with a contraction in employment. Uganda has Africa’s highest level of youth unemployment, with jobs for only 20 percent of university graduates each year. As new graduates enter a virtually jobless economy, what strategies do they pursue to maintain their precarious elite status, and how do they differentiate themselves from the less educated? And how do class and gender inequalities continue to structure opportunities among graduates in the era of expanded access to universities? In my book project, for which I am in the midst of data collection, I will examine the effects of this influx of previously-excluded students into an overextended job market on gendered understandings of status, mobility, and modern selfhood.

The core of this study consists of a set of longitudinal interviews with a sample of 60 students living in Kampala, beginning right before they complete their final semester and continuing for two years. I spent January-August 2018 in Kampala setting up this project and conducting the first two rounds of interviews. The project is ongoing and I am supervising a staff of interviewers and project managers who will be conducting follow-up interviews with these graduates every 3-4 months. In addition to the longitudinal interviews, we have also completed a set of focus group discussions with graduates, interviews with employers who frequently hire university graduates, and ethnographic observations in a neighborhood known as the “graduate ghetto,” near one of the large public universities in Kampala.

Description of work that will be assigned to research assistants: So far, we have 2 waves of data on the core respondents. I will ask the RA to choose from a set of topics and code and analyze the data and to construct a narrative about what the data tells us about that topic, and to complete a literature review for that topic as well. Topics include but are not limited to: experiences interviewing and looking for choice of university and course of study, romantic relationships and cultural norms of female submissiveness, the economy of cheating on campus, social conventions around borrowing and lending money. The RA will work with me and members of my Ugandan research team to design a coding scheme and complete an initial coding of the relevant sections of the interviews, and also complete analytic memos that begin to construct an empirical argument from the data.

Tasks Include:
• Attending biweekly (every two weeks) team meetings
• Choosing a topic and reading the literature for background knowledge about that topic.
• Writing a 5-10 page literature review for your topic
• Developing a coding scheme and coding interviews around your topic.
• Writing analytic memos that draw connections across interviews.
• Maintaining a spreadsheet with key summary information about each interview that is relevant to your topic.
• Working with the Ugandan research team (via email and Skype) to develop questions for future waves around your topic and to refine your coding scheme and analysis.

• Respond to emails within 24 hours, except during holidays or under extenuating circumstances
• Send email updates every week with clear descriptions of tasks accomplished and time spent on the project
• Keep a project log with documentation of all project-related decisions you make
• Collaborate with other team on coding and analysis (as appropriate depending on your topic)
• Maintain an organized file system and backup all your work to the cloud at all times
• Edit and proofread all writing before sharing it with team members.

Credit hours available: 2-4

Number of Positions available: 4