One of the foremost challenges confronting our education system nowadays is to link education to employment. Knowledge-driven capitalism has changed the skills required at workplaces in the age of globalisation, and the traditional ways of teaching and learning strategies in our universities have become out of place to some degree.
Consequently, unemployment rates among our educated youth is now escalating. More than one-third of the total youth labour force in Bangladesh with higher education is unemployed, according to a latest Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) study. On the flipside, our media are coming out with statistics of huge remittances outflow to India, China and some other countries as their skilled professionals have made inroads to Bangladesh job market. One thing we must take notice of is that the amount outflow is not illegal; our organisations are forced to hire their skills which they are not getting from our own Bangladeshi graduates.
I talked to professionals of some organisations who hire foreign nationals to know about the skills our graduates lack vis-a-vis other countries’ professionals and how best we can prepare them for our ever-expanding job market. What I summarised from their comments is that our graduates lack certain essential skills, what an educationalist would prefer to term as 21st Century Skills.
These skills are identified in the USA by experts, educators, business professionals for the learners of the 21st century, which are now applied to many famous educational institutes of the world. They identified several clusters of skills which include knowledge of key subjects including English and world languages, mathematics, economics; learning and innovation skills (4Cs, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity); information, media and technology skills and finally, life and career skills.
With respect to these skills our graduates trail far behind their foreign peers. I came to know from merchandisers of buying houses that many top positions in their trade are occupied by Indians for their outstanding communicative and persuasive skills. In a similar fashion, officials of a reputed bank told me that their top management was impressed by the way Indian experts advised them to identify the unproductive areas of the bank and better cost management strategies.
Another area where especially Indian professionals enjoy particular comparative advantage is their vast international network due to the fact that many top managers including chief executives of multinationals or multilateral organisations are of Indian origins. So, it is hardly a surprise when we see many Bangladeshi companies prefer Indian professionals to gain easy access to the international market.
In view of this, we must take cognizance that emotion-laden posts on social media or newspaper articles against the outflow of remittances by foreign professionals of either Indian or Chinese origin do not solve our issue at hand. What we require now is to refurbish our antiquated curriculum and teaching and learning strategies. Our educators and educational administrators must identify the causes of unemployment among our graduates to prevent our money channelised to other countries for hiring skilled professionals. Are our students getting proper education? Time has arrived to reflect on and find answers to these questions.
It is a paradox that whenever the issue of the quality of higher education in Bangladesh comes, we habitually blame the government for their poor allocation of funds in research to the universities. No one would dare to controvert that funding crisis is a major concern for a developing country like ours. But like many other countries of the world, our universities should also strive hard for internal resource mobilisation. For instance, many teachers of larger public universities are engaged either in consulting services or teaching at the private universities or other paid jobs and they can share a portion of their earnings with the universities. Universities of many other countries including India gain from their teachers’ consultancy. Few years back Business Today of India reported that Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta keeps 40 per cent of the profits professors make from consulting.
It is not clear to many how much public university teachers are sharing their consultancy fees with the universities and in how many universities the rule is practiced now. But it can be an important source of revenue generation, not only for the public universities but for the private universities as well. Quoting the director of IIM Ahmadabad, Hindustan Times once reported that that no teachers of IIM are allowed to do consultancy under personal capacity and they cannot take direct payments, it must come through the institute.
In addition to having share from consulting fees, universities may charge institutional overhead costs for science-based projects as well. In fact, there are numerous other avenues of income generation including collaborative research with the industry, alumni donation and foreign collaboration. We want greater budget allocation for education, but instead of looking at the government fund always, universities can explore funding from other sources as well.
Another impediment for our graduates to their entry into the job market is the absence of their truly international outlook as even our top universities are far from being global or multicultural in nature. Our universities are heavily-fortified and visiting professors or exchange students from local or foreign universities are rarely welcomed. We have high-skilled expatriate professionals, outstanding retired diplomats, successful businessmen, civil and military officials and their expertise and resources can be utilised more to bring diversity into the universities.
Today’s jobs are largely marketing jobs, companies are turning into multinational ones. And without ensuring a truly multicultural and global environment in the classrooms, we cannot expect our graduates to be employed in this multicultural and global environment.
I have written elsewhere that the ongoing movement against quota system is only a sideshow. Had there been adequate jobs for our graduates, the movement would not have gone so far. Given the presence of huge foreign professionals in our job market our universities cannot ignore their responsibilities in developing skilled human resources for our country. Education must be linked to employment or entrepreneurship. The sooner we understand that, the better it would be for our very large youth population.