As graduates go, the stories of these two men are typical, until a point. Both of them entered undergraduate studies in 2014. Both graduated on time. But the resemblance ends here. The life trajectories of these two youths, Rifat Ahmed and Arnob Mahmud, diverged from this point on.
Rifat had graduated from a public university while Arnob's alma mater was a private university. Soon after graduation from the private uni Arnob started working. He has been employed for the last two years. Rifat, the public uni grad, is yet to find a job that would propel him to a fulfilling career and an assured future.
Private uni grads doing better in job market
Private university graduates are doing better in the job market, surveys show. They are ahead of their peers from the public universities, both in corporate job sectors and self-employment sectors.
But what is the secret recipe to their success? What is different with a private university graduate in comparison to a public university graduate?
The graduates, and of course the management of the private universities, have answers. Private university graduates can stay ahead of their public university counterparts because of the nature of their curriculum, grooming, and the focus on preparing their students for the real world job market. The courses are designed for marketability. Development of soft-skills are stressed including better ability to communicate. The universities have programmes to ease their students into networking with employers with regular interactive sessions. These are some of the details that continue to keep private university graduates ahead of those from public universities in corporate and other fast-growing private sector jobs. Human resources managers also find private university graduates better prepared for corporate jobs, the professionals say.
What does Arnob have to say about his quick start in a career out of the university?
"I was introduced to the corporate world and the people during my student life as the teachers arranged many workshops, discussions and job festivals with the presence of the corporate bosses. I have a good connection with the corporate sector now. I have no stress about jobs at this stage," he said.
Arnob did not hang around, looking for government jobs and that is why he gets a handsome salary now. He is ahead of his friend by any measure.
Government civil service jobs are traditionally the first choice of fresh graduates because of the secured nature of the sector. Since the public universities produce a much higher number of graduates every year, they crowd the government recruitment tests. But only a few lucky ones can qualify because of the small number of public service jobs available each year ranging from officer to office assistant. Besides, there is an age bar for government jobs.
So, the private sector remains the eventual choice where graduates from public universities face tough competition from their private university peers equipped with better networking and communication skills.
Private uni grads get more jobs, study shows
Human resources managers say that the private universities focus on the corporate world and help connect the students to better opportunities.
M Nazrul Islam, executive vice-president of AB Bank Limited and General Secretary of Bangladesh Society for Human Resources Management, told The Business Standard that the private university graduates are working with multinational companies, banks, ICT companies and leading employers in the manufacturing sector like apparel industry. They are also doing better in these sectors.
"The private universities arrange career development programmes like workshops, symposium, discussion and job festivals almost every month. These programmes turn a shy student into a confident communicator. They can get a job later using their own resources," he said.
"Public university graduates are academically sound but few of them are oriented for private sector jobs. They are obsessed with government jobs and that is why their network and communication skills required for the private sector are poor," he said.
The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) in a study found that the rate of employment is higher at 44% among private university graduates than public university graduates at 32%.
Private uni curricula gets updated fast
The difference could possibly be explained by the fact that private universities generally make quick updates of curricula with the changing market needs than the public universities, according to the "Tracer Study of Graduates of Universities in Bangladesh" conducted by BIDS in 2019.
"This is also borne by the information that (a) more male graduates of private universities are found to be self-employed than public universities, and (b) although the majority of the employed graduates in the sample serve multinational sector, private university graduates get more multinational sector jobs than public university graduates," it found.
The study revealed that effective links with industry players make the career pathway easier for private university students.
Private university students are also given internship opportunities in private institutions, while the gap between academia and businesses is further bridged by the invitations of top business leaders as guest lecturers.
These are the factors that keep private university graduates ahead in career path while their fellows from public universities spend their undergrad years preparing for civil service or government jobs.
Dr SM Shafiul Alam, professor and head, School of Business, Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST), however, said there was no public-private distinction for graduates. "If universities can produce quality graduates by ensuring quality education, the graduates will not remain unemployed. We do not compromise on quality in our university. None of our students are unemployed with a degree," he said confidently.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will require reducing the gap between academia and industry to survive, and the newly-introduced Outcome Based Education (OBE) curriculum will help to keep pace with the transition, he felt.
Employers look for 'soft skills'
Around 46% of private employers in the country reported difficulties in filling job vacancies due to lack of required skills, according to a Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) study last year. The research found that the private employers prioritise "soft skills" the most in making a hiring decision compared with hard skills and work experience.
Soft skills represent good communication, time management, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, critical thinking, professional networking skills and creativity.
These are the things private universities care for besides introducing new courses keeping in mind the needs of the time.
Private universities are leading the way to innovation, opening opportunities in modern subjects like Fashion Designing, Tourism and Hospitality, Computer Science and Engineering, Telecommunication Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Pharmacy and Microbiology, among others.
Private universities have a higher percentage of science, technology, pharmacy and agriculture students than the public universities.
Graduates of these disciplines are in high demand in the job market. Moreover, students of private universities are ahead in organising national and international seminars and symposiums, cultural events and extra-curricular activities through various clubs. As a result, students of private universities are ahead in the job market as well.
Many provide world-class programmes, make no room for session jams and also prevent brain drain from plaguing the country.
Nusrat Jahan Mishti, a BBA student of North South University, told The Business Standard, "Besides the modern and advanced education programme of the university, we also think from the first year of how to get a job quickly after completing Masters, because we know that our family had to pay a lot for our education. We also mentally prepare to get a job."
Mr KM Ali, ceo and lead consultant, Space, said, "We need to sit together frequently to reduce the gap between industry and academia." He suggested developing meaningful relationships between industry and public-private universities to reduce this gap.
Reaj Hosssain, chief operating officer of Excellence Bangladesh, told TBS that the students of private universities work with different current corporate issues. They have to go to the corporate executives for their field work and make good relations with them.
After graduation, it is easier for them to get a foot in the door. These points help them to get good jobs in different multinational and native companies, he said.
Farhana Rahman Urmi, a human resources management professional with experience in hiring for a number of private organisations, said the private university students are mostly dominating the country's corporate jobs because of their spontaneity, communication skills and good relations with the corporate companies.
"The private university graduates keep them connected with the corporate world since their student days. They gradually make them fit for the private jobs and perform for the jobs pretty well. That is why the corporate bosses choose the private graduates for their companies," she added.
Focusing on global standard
The country's university education opened its door to the private sector in 1992 and in the next three decades the number boomed to more than a hundred because of growth in demand for higher education and limited capacity of public universities.
Now they are focussing more on quality to achieve global-standard excellence to generate skilled human resources to drive the country's dream towards a developed economy.
The private universities have been doing better in the international ranking as well.
Professor Dr Atiqul Islam, vice-chancellor of North South University, one of first generation private universities of the country, told The Business Standard that they have been trying to produce world standard graduates. So that they can compete in the global arena.
Professor Vincent Chang, PhD, vice-chancellor of Brac University, another leading private higher studies institution, told TBS that his university is working to become the flagship university of the country and emerge as a global institution. "I believe that we are on the right path. We always try to make sure that our curriculum is market sensitive and industry connected. There is a continuous effort from our side."
This is what other major private universities also dream of.