Bangladesh’s education system produced 8 lakh graduates in 2018, without giving them the skills required for gainful employment
Saiful Islam achieved a post-graduate degree from the University of Dhaka in 2012. Since then, he has taken part in five civil service examinations, but could not get even one call for an interview.
The job seeker admitted that he is very weak in the English language, mathematics and science, which are crucial for a candidate to pass the written examination.
Saiful also tried his luck by applying for bank jobs, but could not pass the recruitment exams.
Concerned about his future, Saiful is now counting the days as he approaches the 30-year age ceiling, after which he will not be able to apply for government jobs, as well as private jobs in banks, non-banks and insurance sectors.
Saiful, and many other youths just like him, are not applying for jobs in the garment and related sectors, which are keeping the wheels of the economy turning in Bangladesh.
Saiful's story is similar to those of hundreds of thousands of other job seekers who are victims of the country's faulty education system, which produced eight lakh graduates in 2018 without giving them the knowledge and skills required for gainful employment.
Dr Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a professor at the Institute of Education and Research (IER) of Dhaka University, said, "We have been seeing management and planning crises in the education sector for over the last decade. There are corruption and irregularities in various institutions.
"Garment factories have been hiring foreigners in top positions, while the number of unemployed graduates is soaring in Bangladesh with each passing year. This is a major deficiency of our education system at present."
According to research conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) in April last year, most of the students from both public and private universities are graduating with poor job related and other basic knowledge, disqualifying them from the country's job market.
Less than four percent of students gained the knowledge and training related to their fields of work from their universities, the research revealed.
As a result, the unemployment rate among people with tertiary levels of education has risen considerably, as revealed by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2018.
About 46 percent of the country's unemployed youths are university graduates.
Besides, a recent study conducted by the World Bank has found that as much as 46 percent of National University students remain unemployed for at least three years after their graduation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shrunk the job market further, with employers slashing jobs to minimise costs in a bid for survival. Amid such a situation, the government is set to announce the budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday.
According to the latest data from the University Grants Commission (UGC), altogether 40 lakh students are studying in the 53 public universities and 105 private universities of the country at graduation, post-graduation and diploma levels.
Among them, only 11 percent are science, technology, pharmacy and agriculture students, while 30 percent are humanities students, 28 percent social sciences, 24 percent business studies and 7 percent others.
The percentage of science, technology, pharmacy and agriculture students at private universities is higher (46%) compared to the public universities. But only a few of the private universities can ensure quality education.
Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) asked students and their guardians not to take admission at 27 private universities as they are not imparting quality education.
Speaking to The Business Standard, Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, an eminent educationist and writer, said, "The public universities are continuously increasing the number of departments without studying the job market. This is very unfortunate.
"There is insufficient budget and little research at the universities and that is why the quality of the students is deteriorating day by day. We must think about job-oriented education now. The government should allocate 15 percent of its total budget for the education sector, particularly for higher education."
Meanwhile, stressing the need for improving the quality of education at the primary level, Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Monzur Ahmed said, "It is a horrific scene. The teachers' quality in primary and secondary schools is not good at all.
"As a result, we got poor quality students in the tertiary level. They became teachers after graduation and post-graduation on political considerations. So how will we get quality graduates from the universities?"
The educationists said the overall curriculum of all the universities must be reformed and a plan must be taken to prepare graduates for private sector jobs. Otherwise, it will be tough to sustain the economic growth of the country as a good number of graduates will remain jobless.
And conditions will get even worse after the Covid-19 pandemic.
They put emphasis on increasing the budgetary allocation for the education sector in the forthcoming budget.
Commenting on the issue, Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University Professor Akhtaruzzaman said, "The university administration is concentrating on ensuring quality education and producing skilled graduates.
"We have already taken some initiatives, including the suspension of pointless evening courses, to ensure quality education."
The UGC allocated a Tk8088.49 crore budget for the country's public universities for the fiscal year 2019-20. Of this amount, only Tk644 million was allocated for research, which is 0.80 percent of the total education budget.
About 65 percent was spent on salaries and pensions.
Responding to a query, UGC Chairman Professor Kazi Shahidullah said, "Public universities follow their laws. They make decisions on how many students they will admit. But unfortunately they admit a large number of students in departments that are not relevant to our education system and also to the job market.
"Public universities, including Dhaka University, opened a good number of departments which have no job market value. Some influential people wanted to open those departments. But the UGC is determined not to give any permission for any unnecessary departments."
He continued, "We will ask all universities to reduce the number of seats in the unnecessary departments, and at the same time we will support job related departments."
Commenting on budgetary allocation, he said, "The government has its limitations, but we are trying to allocate more budget for the universities, including for research."
What's the plan after the pandemic?
Dhaka University's Centre for Budget and Policy has said the unemployment rate among the highly educated people of the country is quite high.
The centre believes that steps must be taken to ensure increased budget allocation for higher education, linking higher education with the industry, revamping technical and vocational education and training, engaging the private sector, providing financial support to students, promoting research and development, fostering a start-up culture and ensuring policy support.
Centre for Budget and Policy Director Professor M Abu Yusuf said, "The pandemic will hit the job market badly, and new opportunities will also be hampered. The situation will worsen day by day.
"The outbreak will further hit the private sector. Many businesses will shut down. At the same time, the country is also suffering from a shortage of skilled graduates. And that is why we are hiring skilled manpower from India, Sri Lanka and Korea."
"At least half a million foreign workers are currently working in the private sector in Bangladesh," he added.
Prof Yusuf further said, "We do not know what exactly will happen. But it is certain that skilled manpower is a must to restore our economy. But, unfortunately, our universities are not producing job-centric graduates.
"It is time we went for serious rethinking about our higher education system and reformed the curriculum."