According to a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), the graduate unemployment rate of Bangladesh was 33.19 per cent in 2019. Numerous graduates, even master's holders, wait two to three years, even more, after the completion of their studies for jobs. As universities are consistently being launched all over the country, a relevant question arises, does Bangladesh need such a huge number of university graduates? If yes, where is the demand in the job market? To answer this, grassroot-level understanding of this problem is necessary.
Education system in Bangladesh is, in fact, not innovation friendly. Family's role in encouraging and pushing their children towards creative thinking and problem-solving mindset is significantly lacking. Hence, upon entering universities, students find it difficult to develop a creative outlook all of a sudden. This also heavily depends on the quality of university and the dedication of individual faculty, which are in most cases, absent.
"Although Malaysia began investing in its infrastructure early on, South Korea today is way ahead of Malaysia as it prioritised innovation," said SM Khaled Mahfuz, a development management professional at Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF). He rightly indicated South Korea's education system which could be an ideal to follow for Bangladesh. Khaled went on stating that higher education should implement a concrete policy with proper practical and theoretical discourses. A graduate with highly sought out soft skills like Microsoft Excel or others is likely to progress faster in jobs than the one who will begin learning those skills entering a job.
With a huge emphasis on digitalisation during the past decade, a surge in IT graduates can be observed, however, not many are able to qualify for jobs. A key reason is heavy focus on memorisation and less focus on obtaining practical skills. The tertiary-level curriculum is simply not in line with the job market demand. Since industries are fickle in nature, the government must ensure that students are enriched with contemporary skills. The skills, which have the highest demands in the job market, should be identified and universities should initiate relevant training modules in its syllabus.
Another less talked about sector is madrasa. In 2018, 75 per cent of madrasa graduates were jobless due to lack of adequate skills. Additionally, the general view towards madras education is also not that good. This perspective has to be altered by the government through facilitating image-building reforms. One way this can be done is through leveraging these graduates' talent in the Arabic language. Partnerships with organisations in UAE countries can be formed where meritorious madrasa graduates can have opportunities.
All these reforms are critical as Bangladesh is expected to graduate from least developed countries (LDC) by 2024 which will bring many challenges. The ready-made garments sector, one of the leading contributors to the gross domestic product of this country, will not receive certain facilities, such as quotas in agreements. The sector is largely dependent on USA and European markets and its unique selling proposition (USP) is its cheap labour.
"Upon LDC graduation, Bangladesh has the risk of losing its global dominance in RMG to Africa since Africa is closer to US and European countries. Coupled with that, Bangladesh is going to lose its 'cheap-labour' card, whereas Africa will soar in this field," explained Khaled. "Our government should start investing in skills development of the millions of garment workers so that they can go on earning adequately after LDC graduation."
The government is taking relevant actions by establishing approximately 88 economic zones to increase economic activities. But this alone won't be enough to save Bangladesh from falling into the middle-income country trap. "The government will have to encourage local-level developments, entrepreneurship, and establish educational institutions in nearby districts of the economic zones so that the graduates in those areas can get enriched with relevant market skills," mentioned Khaled.
The World Bank's Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) for graduates is working to diminish the gap between their skills and industry demand. Despite such a massive investment, very little development has been observed. In order to streamline the TVET graduates to the formal economy after LDC graduation, they must have exposure to new technological skills.
Therefore, the real challenge for Bangladesh is not achieving monumental infrastructural developments, but introducing skill based education in its system. This is the only way forward to save the future economy of this country from the wrath of graduate unemployment.
The writer is a third year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. She can be reached at