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     Volume 5 Issue 88 | March 31, 2006 |

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Cover Story

Doorway to a Brighter Future

Private education has become big business. With only a handful of public universities offering limited seats, private universities are the only alternative (besides going abroad) for a growing number of young people who can afford it. Parents and guardians find themselves spending a large chunk of their income on tuition fees. But is this investment, that may amount to several lakh taka, really worth it?

Elita Karim

The Bangladeshi middle class dream these days includes a BBA degree followed by an MBA, a top ranking 9 to 5 job preferably at a bank and a first-rate salary. A couple of decades ago, this privilege was enjoyed by a handful of students who acquired first class marks from reputed public universities. Studying at a public institution like the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) or Dhaka University was a-dream-come-true for most students and their parents alike. Getting a degree from one of these institutions was like clinching a one-way ticket to a perfect life. The remaining graduates with less brilliant marks would make do with less attractive jobs or start a small-time business on their own.

The market for graduates has changed quite a bit since then. More and more corporations are looking towards well-reputed private universities to pick their prized candidates.

In 1993, the establishment of the first private university in Bangladesh, North South University (NSU) was received with a degree of scepticism. "Back then, those who were unable to get a seat in the public institutions, made their way towards NSU," says Syed Showkat Hussain, a marketing officer of a private firm and himself a graduate of that institution. "The curriculum was still developing and most of the kids just wanted to transfer their credits abroad to complete a foreign degree and for a better life there."

Over the years, the scenario changed. After the establishment of North South University, many more private institutions began to come up in Dhaka, namely Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB), Presidency University, East West University (EWU), American International University of Bangladesh (AIUB) and many more. "Most of these universities follow a standard and an up-to-date curriculum in the subjects that they offer, especially Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA)," says Irum Saha, a BBA graduate from a reputed private university now working in an advertising agency. "These universities are now recognised all over and the students are getting their worth."

Along with a growing number of private universities has been the emergence of more and more private corporations and multinational companies. Hundreds of graduates come out of private universities every year and fortunately enough, as compared to past years, these fresh graduates are getting jobs and the huge amount of money spent to get a decent education from a private university seems to be paying off. Private banks, telecom companies and multinational firms are taking the market for fresh graduates by storm, taking their pick from both public and private universities alike. "These private companies, especially the telecom sector, have somehow changed the conventional idea behind getting a job after graduating," remarks Dr. Chowdhury, a parent of a private university student. "Back in our days, a large number of students would opt for the medical profession, mostly for the reputation and honour. However, the development of the private sector has visibly created a sudden shift in what these young people desire as ideal careers. They are a lot more practical now, in terms of their career and which company they want to work with."

Students from well-reputed universities are usually guaranteed a good job when they graduate

Twenty-four year old Raihan Khan is a Media Officer of the Marketing Division at Grameen Phone in Dhaka. Having done a double major in Computer Science and Marketing from a reputed private university in Dhaka, he claims that his passion for creativity and proficient communication skills probably gave him an edge over other graduates from reputed public institutions competing for the same job.

"I had to go through a written exam, which further qualified me for a verbal interview with the head of the division," he says. "I was always keen on organising events and working in groups, even back at my university. I think this worked for me very well in Grameen Phone as well. Being a media officer, I can now handle pressure and at the same time communicate with externals, which happen to be the key points of my job."

How well one handles a huge workload is a skill that is crucial for a job at a multinational says Urfi Ahmad, the Group Account Director of Grey Worldwide. "When we recruit new people into the company, we always look for loyalty, sincerity, the ability to take workload and meet deadlines."

An international advertising firm, Grey Worldwide takes in people in four divisions, namely, Media, Creative, Accounts and Servicing. "For matters related to finance, we obviously look for graduates with a major in Finance and the like," adds Ahmad. "However, most of our recruits have to be qualified in presentation, communication and writing skills, not to mention the ability to do multitasking."

Tanzirul Dilshad Ditan, an Account Executive of Grey Worldwide, graduated from a reputed private university majoring in BBA. "I had to go through a probation period for six months," she says. "In those six months, my ability to create, come up with innovative ideas, handling pressure and managing different kinds of tasks at one time were examined and scrutinised by the authorities. It also gave me a chance to learn my work and see if I was ready for this hectic job."

One of the key features of working in a multinational company is handling a huge workload

What most of the private corporations look for in the recruits, is the ability to communicate well in both English and Bangla, especially issues involving foreign dealings as well as excellent presentation and interaction skills. Nishat Anwar, the Recruitment and Training Manager of Banglalink thinks that graduates coming into the company have a lot of scope to learn the basics of such skills. "Courses in universities covering presentation skills, writing techniques, business communication skills are very useful," she says. "Presentation and writing skills can make a lot of difference for a fresh graduate while competing to enter the company and also after joining."

"In my university, we had to take up a few 100 and 200 level courses dedicated to presentation skills, business communication and advanced writing," says Simin Saifuddin, Senior Account Executive at Unitrend for the last two years after graduating magna cum laude from a reputed private university. "Even though these courses were probably never taken very seriously by any of us, I realise now how helpful they are, especially since I now have to apply the concepts in my workplace."

Zulfiqar Ahmed, the Managing Director and the CEO of Unitrend, an advertising agency, says that they have recently introduced a concentrated training session for new recruits. "It's true that students from certain private universities are now at par with the students graduating from major public universities, namely IBA and Dhaka University," he says. "However, young people being the impulsive lot that they are, most people graduating from private universities seem to be very indecisive. That is why we have decided to go through a few meticulous training programmes for the sake of these fresh recruits and watch their work over the six-month probation period."

It has been noticed that many renowned private universities are concentrating more on subjects related to business, which does not seem justifiable by many students studying for non-business majors. "A sales/marketing career still dominates the job market in Bangladesh," explains Nishat Anwar from Banglalink. "Hence, we see more graduates majoring in Marketing. However, due to the recent growth of the telecom industry, a demand has been created for electrical and civil engineering students as well, which is why we see private universities coming up with engineering courses as well."

Certain multinationals seem to have their eye on particular institutions. For instance, Grameen Phone has been recruiting students from North South University and Unilever's first choice has always been IBA graduates. "This might be true, considering the fact that a maximum number of graduates were recruited from these universities accordingly into the mentioned companies over the last couple of years," says a Unilever employee. "However, this might also be because students graduate at different time periods within a year from different institutions. For instance, IBA and other public intuitions have students graduating just once a year; where as NSU and other private universities have students graduating at least three times a year, because of the American semester/trimester system that they follow. This does not necessarily have to match with a company's recruitment period, since most companies recruit only when there is a vacancy."

Arif Shahriar is the Head of Human Resources at British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB). "We see graduate recruitment and people development as part of our business strategy, ensuring that our company is equipped with managers of the highest calibre," says Shahriar. BATB provides a wide array of opportunities for graduates from different disciplines, for example they recruit Business Graduates for Marketing, HR, Finance and Corporate Affairs, Engineers for our Manufacturing department, Graduates with Agricultural and Soil Science background for the Leaf department and Computer Science graduates for IT department. "Graduates can also join as Management Trainees under our 'We Challenge You' programme which gives them a comprehensive exposure to all the departments of the company over a period of two years," Shahriar adds.

"BATB's recruitment process is a unique global practice followed in all 180 operating companies of BAT," continues Shahriar. "We do not accept paper CV, but rather, interested applicants post their CV on our job portal www.bdjobs.com/batb." The applicants also go through a four-step recruitment process including an interview, a rigours case study and presentation sessions. "We look for potential leaders and hence apart from academic background, it's important for the applicant to be involved in extra-curricular activities that demonstrate leadership potential," concludes Shahriar.

According to Sarfaraz Al-Amin (not his real name), who recently got a job at BATB as a Territory Officer immediately after graduating from IBA, at least four others from his class, along with him, were appointed as Territory Officers in various points in the country, where as just a couple of graduates were selected from NSU and IUB put together. "However, about six-seven months back, when we were busy preparing for our finals, at least seven graduates from private universities were appointed as Territory Officers, and just two from public intuitions," he remarks. "This was just a matter of timing, I believe."

Many corporations are more interested in the candidates' communication and presentation skills rather than their CGPA

So, are graduates from public universities losing their market? "That is not necessarily true," says Zulfiqar Ahmed from Unitrend. "Private university students still have a long way to go to reach the standards set by students from IBA and other public institutions." In that case, what are these standards and how long will it take private universities to reach them?

According to Shahriar Akbar Chowdhury, the Head of HR Development of Grameen Phone, some private universities have definitely reached these standards, if not all. "In recent times, graduates of private universities are doing reasonably well in comparison to their colleagues from public universities in this competitive job market of our country. However, as a pattern graduates of a small number of private universities are doing much better than the rest. On the other hand, it is also observed that some private universities have earned certain prominence over others in a particular discipline, i.e. business, IT, engineering, etc," he explains.

"Without mentioning any names, leading private university graduates have established themselves well in the job market as candidates with an all rounded personality with applied knowledge, good communication skills and open mindedness. The diversity in curriculum and extra-curricular activities in the private universities could be the reasons behind such output. However, till date top favourites for business, IT or engineering are graduates of certain public universities."

As a former faculty of a leading private university, Chowdhury is confident that in due time private universities may also command such dominance. Private universities he says need to focus on two issues - transparency and justice in student and faculty recruitment and placing more emphasis on academic standards rather than commercial gains.

Private universities concentrate more on subjects related to business

Rowshon Uzaman Chowdhury, Officer Ceps Autopay PFS of HSBC, a multinational bank, says that corporations and multinational banks are always looking for proficient students, regardless of which institution he/she has graduated from. "We are open to both public and private university students, who show the desired skills and are confident enough to handle the job requirements," he says. "We have an even mix of graduates from both the public and private institutions working here. We concentrate on IBA where public institution is concerned and for private universities, we tend to look at some of the well-established institutions such as NSU, IUB and a few others. However, we do not discriminate against anyone based on academic institution."

According to Mikhail Islam, Human Resource Consultant of Aktel, they look for leadership qualities, a team-player-attitude and a dynamic personality in the young graduates that they recruit. "It does not matter which institution we recruit them from," he elaborates. "As long as the individuals are able to merge in with the work environment and know their goals, it matters less as to which university they are from, public or private." He mentions the Job Fair held at IBA recently. "I was amazed to find young and bright individuals who had drawn out sketches, rough if not accurate, of how to go about achieving goals in their respective lives," he explains. "That's the enthusiasm that we look for when we recruit fresh graduates."

Private university students have definitely reached the standards set by public institutions

M. Zulfiquar Hussain of Citycell says that they are not partial to any institution whatsoever and that their recruitments are totally based on the candidates' competencies. "We need to recruit the best people from the market and universities like IBA, NSU, IUB and many more are producing good graduates," he says. "In my view, there will be more competition in the future between the public and private universities for a better placement and the market will decide the ranking based on their performance."

In spite of the fact that private universities are successful in offering well designed courses and practical knowledge, a private university still comes after a public institution on a student's list of choices. One of the biggest reasons behind this is the money involved in a private university education. The fact still remains that parents, for the sake of their children's education today, make a huge amount of investment. "I spent about ten lakhs, paying tuition fees for my daughter," says Dr. Chowdhury, whose daughter graduated from the School of Business from a reputed private university. "Initially, I had made an estimation of about 6-7 lakhs, however, there were times when my daughter had to retake certain courses or take up extra courses for extra credit. What would make sense to me now is for her to get into a multinational company and earn enough so that she can stand on her own feet."

Once again, private establishments like multinationals and the various telecom companies have come to the rescue. Most graduates getting into these companies get a start up salary of at least 15,000 - 20,000 taka per month, after they complete the required probation or training period, though it also depends on the nature of the job and the employee's job experience. "We offer competitive remuneration packages to attract the desired candidate for each position," says Zulfiquar Hussain from Citycell. "There are several factors to determine the level of salary given, for instance the job nature, internal comparison, external competitiveness i.e. market going rate and finally individual performance including competence and potential of an employee. Usually, top performers are rewarded with a higher increment." Recently though, BATB recruited a number of fresh BBA graduates from both private and public universities for the position of Territory Officer, where each officer is sent to a particular section of the country to promote the respective product. These recruits are now enjoying a 50,000 taka salary a month, along with cell phone and transport services.

With a boom in the private sector, job choices for graduates have increased

With the emergence of so many private companies, the job prospects for young people are looking up. There has been a significant change in the way people view higher education. The conventional notion that the ultimate goal of a young person is to go abroad to study and settle has given way to a different perspective. Though certain institutions dominate certain job descriptions, there are now plenty of jobs for graduates. With growing competition top private and public universities are preparing their graduates to meet with not just local challenges, but with a demanding global environment. The development of the private sector has definitely created a shift and there are now ideal careers available in various industries right here in Bangladesh.


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