When your alma mater matters too much
When we finish high school, be it A Levels or HSCs, the first thing we try to do, no matter where our interests lie, is to get into IBA, or the Institute of Business Administration.
Those with an interest in engineering of course try for BUET, but most go for IBA because firstly, it doesn’t require as much technical knowhow, and secondly, the prerequisite results for even applying to BUET most people can’t match.
There’s a good reason for this. IBA is seen as this panacea for the future -- the institution in which entry guarantees employment, high salaries, respect. And anyone in the corporate world will attest to this fact.
Most large companies, especially MNCs, explicitly look for IBA graduates when hiring, and these same graduates will often end up drawing a salary exponentially more than their peers from other universities, and even more so than their seniors in the company, who have had more years of experience.
While I will not say that IBA and the skills they teach their students are not substantial, or that they are oversold to some extent, it might, however, be problematic that this one institution, which only takes about a hundred students every year, has such esteem and draws such admiration that every other candidate is treated as somehow being lesser than their IBA counterparts.
You could argue that this is warranted, considering the fact that any institution under Dhaka University is obviously superior to local private universities, which are oftentimes inferior, corrupt, and have not been established for long enough or have the same resources which DU does.
But this may not be the case now, when private universities have made great strides in improving not only their faculty bodies, but also the quality of education they provide, to say nothing of the fact that Dhaka University can no longer merely stand behind its reputation, while continuing to flagrantly disregard professionalism.
But even if this was not the case, there is a rather harmful bias that exists. And how I know that this bias exists and that it is one which is almost blind in its execution is that even degrees from well-known Ivy League universities from abroad get equal or less priority than that of IBA.
There is no issue of local, homegrown talent versus foreign export here either. It is evident from the fact that foreign degrees, when compared to local ones from private universities, are given much more weight. As such, there’s no issue of patriotism here.
A big reason for this, I believe, is that most people in power within these companies are IBA graduates themselves and, either due to preconceived notions of where talent goes in Bangladesh or due to some shared misplaced sense of brotherhood and narcissism, find themselves staring into the eyes of younger versions of themselves.
And I will grant them this: Anyone and everyone I know who has gotten into IBA was of merit and talent, in whom I could see potential for success (bar one or two, I’m sure).
The way the exam is structured, focusing more on language skills and logical ability and critical thinking, ensures that people of creativity and possessing a certain acumen get through.
But Bangladesh is much changed from the days of the previous generation.
There are more than 100 people in the country with the same, if not superior skills, who did not make it through. They were judged on the basis of a singular exam on a singular day, and their futures were decided, set in stone.
And if they don’t get into IBA, where will they go?
Their next best option remains private universities, or DU, which too remains a problematic endeavour, not only because of the entrance exams but also because of the limited numbers of seats available.
This speaks to the overall problem of seat-to-student ratio, and employers would do well to be aware of this fact when making their next hire.
If graduates are being valued more than people who have experience, then there is definitely a corporate culture which lacks the self-awareness to judge candidates based on true skill in all cases, as opposed to taking a glance at which institution they call their alma mater.
This sort of discrimination not only adds to the fake superiority complexes of the graduates, but also means that we are often failing to prioritize what is truly important in certain situations, such as experience, tenacity, awareness.
All of these, a single entrance exam to a single institution cannot judge.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.