One of the main determinants of a country’s development trajectory is the strength of its education system. The kind of educational opportunities available to a populace and the ease with which they can be accessed are significant factors in terms of the career options available to graduates. Often they can also determine the kind of academic training that graduates need to have to flourish in their chosen field of work.
Many university students in Bangladesh choose to pursue a business or science-related major because the specific takeaways from these fields of study help them get lucrative jobs once they graduate. Unlike many Western countries where careers aren’t solely built on the basis of what major a student chooses in college, fresh university graduates in Bangladesh can often have a hard time finding work in certain fields that set specific concentrations of study as a prerequisite for employment rather than any specific academic training. This approach to recruiting employees is often short-sighted.
By putting an emphasis on business and science majors, employees are stifling the growth of creativity by encouraging a narrow approach to problem-solving rather than innovative solutions to work. At the university level, students are missing out on the merits of a holistic education that provides them not only a solid grounding in their preferred field of study but also in a breadth of other non-related areas such as the humanities, which is often a target of unfair opprobrium.
The re-emerging emphasis placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects is understandable because we are currently in a time when the world is riding the coattails of a crippling recession. In a bad labour market, these technical areas of study can be relied on for a stable, well-paying job. Additionally, these majors also allow for the development of new technology to flourish. Even President Barack Obama lavished praise on the merits of a STEM education that drew the ire of liberal arts advocates.
In Bangladesh, most private universities tend to focus on their business and science departments, churning out graduates eager to dip their toes in, what has been, a rampantly growing corporate sector in the last few years. As in most free-market economies, the supply of a product is determined based on the demand for it. Similarly, most private universities here are simply focusing more on their business and science departments because the demand for those subjects is more, with a prominent number of students choosing to study BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration).
In the process, students are often missing out on the opportunity to study subjects such as political science and international relations. In a country rife with political upheavals, it is surprising that universities are not doing more to ground the leaders of tomorrow with a good understanding of political science. Higher education institutions can address this issue by showing students the options that are available to them in terms of a career when they study a combination of subjects.
Universities can slowly begin to build up resources that would allow them to provide a good social science education to their students while also making it easy for them to pursue a second major in a business or science-based subject so that their career options are not limited upon graduation. An example of such a combination would be an Economics and International Relations double major that would allow graduates to pursue jobs in international organisations as economists or as analysts and associates in banks or consulting firms.
As Bangladesh’s interaction with global actors increases over time through its work in business, science, technology and even international affairs, it is vital that universities remain committed to a continuous process of self-evaluation so that their curriculum reflect international standards (or at least begin to work towards that stage) and the graduates are competitive not just locally but also internationally. Although Bangladesh has made great leaps in terms of economic development, it may be worth pondering whether economic development that is not built on a foundation of education-directed social development will result in a better quality of life for us in the future.