Is university degree enough to get job as fresh graduate?
This is the burning question on a job seeker's mind in Bangladesh as we still continue with a traditional university curriculum. Unemployment remains high among new graduates, many of whom remain jobless for to two to three years of completing their degrees. Paradoxically, employers have expressed strong concerns over the increasing difficulty in finding high-skilled candidates to fill their vacant positions. Modernization of economic structure and technological advances in industries has been increasing the demand for skilled workers.
A survey reports that over two-thirds of employers are lack of skilled applicants for professional, technical, and managerial positions across different occupations. In the absence of adequate high-skilled professionals in the local job market, some sectors such as RMG fill the skills gap through recruitment of foreign expertise.
According to the Labour Force Survey 2016-2017, the unemployment rate among those with tertiary education qualifications stood at 11.2 per cent, much higher than the national average of 4.2 per cent in 2017. There is also a stark gender disparity--unemployment rate for female stands at 21.4 per cent, which is nearly three times as high as that for males. Recent graduate tracking surveys also confirm the challenging job market environment for tertiary education graduates. Only 19 per cent of college graduates are found to be employed full-time or part-time, while nearly half of them remain unemployed.
There has been a growing concern over the quality and relevance of tertiary education and poor employability of graduates in Bangladesh. Quality concerns on tertiary education have intensified with the sector's dramatic expansion over the past two decades, further exacerbated by inadequate resource allocation and limited capacity for quality assurance to guide this growth. A number of factors play an important role in increasing employability of the students at tertiary level in Bangladesh. This article evaluates some key factors of employability skills that university graduates' earned from both public and private universities based on a rapid survey conducted in July 2020 from the Education & Employment Policy Network of Youth Policy Forum (YPF).
Despite having a limitation of covering all institutions like public, private and national university, madrasa and polytechnic institutes; this rapid survey was conducted among 25 universities - 13 public and 12 private. According to the University Grant Commission (UGC) the total number of approved universities in Bangladesh is 46 public and 91 private. Though the number of university seems adequate, the question on quality for both public and private remains a matter of concern. There are only a few universities which provide quality education among the 91 universities, despite having some infrastructural deficit. On the other hand public universities have sufficient government fund with infrastructure but out of 46 many are struggling to adopt modern teaching and learning techniques.
Some of the universities have their own career centre to engage students with different employers but in reality, it is not as effective either. As a result, in some cases participating in an internship becomes only a formality to obtain curriculum requirements. There is also a common misconception that Arts/Social Science students do not require internships particularly for subjects like History, Islamic Studies, Language, Political Science, etc. but to gain employability skills every student from all departments must have some hands on work experience for a kick-start in the job market.
Getting a degree certainly improves the job prospects, but it's not the only factor which will benefit one's career. As well as providing with the technical know-how for a dream job, a university degree should also teach the necessary soft skills that are needed to thrive in the workplace.
What are soft skills? Soft skills are transferable qualities that help you succeed in whatever task you turn to--whether that's the ability to be a team player or quickly adapt to changes in your environment. In this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, every person should also have some important technical skills to deal with the modern world. Technical skills e.g. using various analytical, Qualitative and Quantitative Research methods, Participatory Action Research, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, SPSS, STATA, R, Python, Xero, Project Management, etc. must be associated with the regular study curriculum tools (based on individual's areas of study). Some good practices of higher-order cognitive skills and soft skills training in Bangladesh are only found in selected universities.
Most of the public universities have field work named 'study tour' but in most of the cases they are treated like a school trip. Some of them have industrial tours from which students can get some idea about a specific industry operations and management. Some Social Science departments have field work but this is not sufficient according to the need of modern education. One reason behind the lack of practical work opportunities is a result of lack of funding in the overall education system. The focus has always been to increase our productivity for higher growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but it is not possible to increase productivity of human resources until we invest adequately in human capital.
Improving quality and relevance:
Bangladesh has a fairly young population with 34 per cent aged 15 and younger and just five per cent aged 65 and older. At present, more than 65 per cent of our population is of working age - between 15 and 64. Bangladesh should realize the full potential of its demographic dividend with decisive policies to expand labour markets through ensuring participation of the young working-age people in the workforce. Today, Bangladesh is considered one of the fastest growing economies in the world. For the last decade and a half, the country has averaged above six per cent annual growth of GDP and in the last fiscal year 2017-18, the country recorded the highest ever growth at 7.86 per cent.
We are yet to build a modern education system and take advantage of the demographic dividend. For over two decades we have been focused on the necessity of English-speaking skill for any job but till now we cannot ensure any policy to achieve it. Investments on education is a priority to build up any developing nation and most importantly implementing modern practices in teaching, learning, and assessment through active learning in the classroom, creating a system for students' feedback and inclusion of higher-order cognitive skills and development of soft skills in the curricula is crucial for Bangladesh's sustainable economic growth.
The focus has always been to increase our productivity for higher growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but it is not possible to increase productivity of human resources until we invest adequately in human capital.
S M Khaled Mahfuz, a Development Management Professional, currently working at Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) and Advisor to Education & Employment Policy Network of Youth Policy Forum (YPF).
Research Associates: Mahia Rahman, Fahad Ahmed Evan, Rubaiya Farheen, Muhammad Minhaj-Ul Hossain.