Facing the Reality in the Bangladeshi Job Market
Mirza Ahsanul Hossain
We all know that it is a common aim of many English medium school and Bengali medium college students to continue their studies abroad and obtain foreign degrees. The common understanding is that foreign educational institutions provide high-class teaching in a very congenial environment. Further, it is thought that with a foreign degree(s) it is possible to secure a good job with a lucrative starting salary at a reputable company abroad. This opens up doors to residence in the country where the graduate has received his/her higher education. Thus, starts a life in a land of myriad opportunities and possibilities.
It is not my aim here to criticize this endeavor of our youth. I, myself, am a traveler on this same road. Although I graduated in business administration from a premier business school in the country, I went abroad for postgraduate education with the notion that I would be more satisfied with the educational standards there. I had already seen the picture in a Bangladeshi university: how qualified the teachers were, how up-to-date the curriculum was, how competitive the environment was, how supportive the staff was. Following graduation from Dhaka University, my impression was that I was now well-equipped with a degree that would give me a platform from where I could access many job opportunities with the country's leading employers. However, there was a tiny sigh. In my pre-university years, I used to nurture a dream of studying in a very open-access environment, where the spirit would be sufficiently competitive yet warm and friendly. No matter what I studied in university, I would find I was capable of linking myself with the best brains in the field. Also, since both my parents and most of my relatives were basically educated and trained in natural science subjects, I also cherished a dream of pursuing an educational career in the sciences, particularly the biological sciences. However, my moderate result in the higher secondary certificate examination prevented me from successfully obtaining a scholarship after applying for admission to several American colleges and universities. Following that episode, I decided to try my luck in Dhaka University. There I was able to take the admission test, but alas I couldn't secure enough marks to obtain a combined profile (comprised of my higher secondary certificate examination result and university entrance test result) which was good enough to put me ahead of the stiff competition. Since I was not intent on studying in any Bangladeshi university outside Dhaka, I learnt that I would have to sacrifice my dream of studying biological sciences.
However, all was not lost. I could still study some other subject in either the (Liberal) Arts faculty, the Commerce faculty or the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) of Dhaka University. All of these Schools were known for providing good programmes of high educational standard. I took the tests for all three Schools and qualified for only the Arts faculty. I quickly took the decision along with my parents to study English Literature. I got in and started attending the lectures, tutorial classes and seminars. I was happy with the programme, with the teachers, and with my fellow batch mates. However, when the time came around for the next year's entrance test at IBA (which always takes place first out of all the Schools in Dhaka University), I became a little unsettled again. All my good friends were studying either a Science discipline or a Commerce discipline. Since I knew it would be tough for me to get entry into the Science faculty, I decided to go for the IBA entrance test. Luckily, second time around, I was successful. I took admission and started the first semester in IBA. I realised that the method of teaching was quite different here from the English department in the Arts faculty. With the passage of time, I went through all eight semesters of the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) programme. Although I wasn't comfortable with all aspects of the teaching, I fared quite well. Finally I graduated with a moderate result and a concentration in Marketing courses in 2004. Following successful completion of my courses, I did internship in an advertising agency and then took the comprehensive examination which was the final requirement of my BBA programme.
With my BBA complete, I continued to pursue my professional career in the advertising agency where I had interned. After about 7 months of serving in that agency, I left and took some time to collect my thoughts about what I wanted to do. I decided that I would try my luck with multinational companies in the country. I did two jobs in two multinational companies for about ten months. I had already decided that I would start my postgraduate education in the country. So I took the Master of Business Administration entrance test in IBA towards the end of 2004. Luckily, without any particular preparation, I qualified for a seat in the MBA programme. My session started in February 2005. At this time I was in between switching jobs. By the end of my first semester in the MBA programme at IBA, I suddenly took a life-changing decision. I let my parents know that I wanted to go abroad to pursue a postgraduate degree in Marketing. Initially, my parents were skeptical seeing that I was already involved in a good job and a good postgraduate education programme at home.
However, later on they relented and told me to begin searching for a suitable Masters programme in a good School abroad, learn about the requirements and collect other essential information about tuition fees, programme duration and the curriculum.
After a few months of searching, my parents and I decided I would study in a university named Middlesex University which was in London, England. Their business school was in the north of London and the university was ranked well for diversity and some other criteria. The tuition fees were reasonable, and I would qualify for a regional scholarship. And so it happened that in September of 2005, after resigning from my job and withdrawing from the MBA programme in IBA, I travelled to London to start studying for a Masters degree there. Incidentally, I missed the orientation programme due to the unavailability of an earlier flight. On my first day at the university, I signed up for three modules. My father had accompanied me to London and stayed with me for a few days. Then he left and the lectures started. I was totally swept away by the speed with which the lecturers integrated a good portion of the module content into the first few lectures. Then came the tutorials, where there was ample opportunity for one-to-one discussion with peers and lecturers. Both the lectures and the tutorials were very intense almost from the very beginning. I was simply fascinated and tried to cope with everything by taking notes in the lectures, participating in the discussions during the tutorials, and reading up afterwards in the library or in my room. At the time, I was living in one of the university halls of residence named Ivy Hall. The first semester went by and I came back home for the holidays. I was very pleased to see my parents as they were to see me. I stayed for about three weeks in Bangladesh, then returned to England for the second semester and the dissertation.
In the second semester, the modules were much tougher than in the first, with guest lecturers taking many lectures and introducing new teaching methods in the class. This whole thing was beyond my expectation. I was finding it difficult to cope up with the pressure. On top of that, I fell sick and missed a crucial presentation. I was getting nervous with the finals approaching. In the second semester, the reports and presentations comprised a major weightage of the grade calculation for all three modules. Unfortunately, I couldn't prepare all the reports as well as I would have wanted to. My grades were horrible and I was devastated. I was resolved to salvage my result by writing an above-average dissertation. However, I made the mistake of picking a topic with which I was unfamiliar, for my dissertation. As a result, I took almost one year to complete my dissertation. In fact, I submitted it from Bangladesh as my visa expired before I had finished typing up the final two chapters of my dissertation.
Now, with my dissertation submitted, I am concentrating a lot of my energy on finding a good job, where I can hope to perform well, integrate quickly and earn accordingly. But I am getting the feeling that the road to such a goal is not without bumps. I have faced interviews at only two companies in the last three months. This is partly due to the fact this last whole month has seen many holidays, and the year is closing. Therefore, the recruitment cycle in many companies has slowed down temporarily.
However, on the whole, I have made some observations. Having gone through such testing circumstances while studying for my Masters degree abroad, I have many times questioned my decision to leave my family, my job and my studies back home. There are many factors that foreign degree aspirants from Bangladesh may not be aware of. When they face those factors in the land of their dreams, they start to realise that dreams are not all pleasant and pain-free. Personally, I went through phases of extreme anxiety, depression, loneliness and worries during my two-year stay abroad. I have had to frequently change my residence, learn to adapt to different diets at different times in different neighborhoods as not every type of food is available everywhere, and bear with the strain of staying away from my dear family for quite a long time. On the other hand, my friends who stayed behind to work in their jobs and pursue their postgraduate education in our beloved alma mater IBA have seen brighter days than I have. They have moved up through the ranks of their own respective companies, learning much through invaluable experiences of the past four years, building up communities in the office environment with their colleagues, and at the same time keeping in touch with books and teachers at IBA. Not that none of my batch mates at IBA have gone abroad to pursue their higher education but the majority has gone in the first or second year of our BBA programme, staying on to work in jobs or to pursue further degrees. Returning from England, I have pondered quite a few times over the issue of whether I have actually been thinking things well and thorough since my graduation from IBA. I have come to the conclusion that I am yet to see a sufficiently large and satisfying return on my (or rather my father's) investment in my postgraduate education. I have spent almost twenty thousand pounds in my two years' stay in England. Will I soon get a job worth all the pain and expenses? It is a difficult and lingering question. I could have just stayed right here in Bangladesh, looking for better jobs while at the same time progressing through the semesters of MBA at IBA. Why did I leave all that and go to England in the first place? It is too late to search for an answer to this question. But I would request those who are thinking of going abroad to pursue their higher education to think this issue through. There are many different educational programmes available in many educational institutions all over the country now.
There are ample opportunities to study here and get a good job in a promising local or multinational company. Things have changed a lot in the recent years, and they will continue changing in the future. There are signs of inspiration and hope for the youth. With these final words, I wish all the best for the university students of the years to come, no matter where they decide to study. May your dreams come true!
(The writer is a Masters graduate of Middlesex University, London, England and BBA graduate of Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)