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‘There are more business graduates than there are jobs, and we need to take the gig economy more seriously’

  • Published at 08:01 am March 8th, 2020
At_February 2020_ULAB EMBA

Interview with Sajid Amit, Associate Professor, ULAB School of Business, and Director, Executive MBA Program, ULAB

An investment banker turned academic, researcher and strategy consultant, Sajid Amit heads the MBA executive program of the University of Liberal Arts in Dhaka. Under his wings the program has seen increasing visibility. 

Amit’s expertise in strategy consulting enabled him to tender market entry advisory services to a variety of leading domestic and international clients including Silicon Valley startups and leading local conglomerates.

Sajid Amit spoke to Avenue T recently to discuss business education in Bangladesh. This is an edited excerpt of the interview. 

What are your thoughts on the current state of business/management education in Bangladesh today?

A lot of BBA graduates come out, and I say this with experience of having taught in five different universities in Bangladesh, and they can’t do a simple interest rate calculation. I find it shocking and sad, whenever this happens, but it does. I have seen MBA students who at the beginning of a course will profess their desire to do banking. But after the end of an MBA program, these aspiring bankers are none the wiser about the banking sector or the profession. 

However, at ULAB, for example, we have overcome these challenges by giving faculty members a certain amount of independence with which they design courses, within UGC guidelines. We have also welcomed industry practitioners to come teach our courses, part-time or full-time. 

I myself was a full-time faculty member at North South, East West, AIUB, before joining ULAB full-time. I was a financial services professional and a researcher for most of my life. That helps. We need to value practical work experience in the relevant field, as well as degrees, when hiring business faculty. 

I have seen faculty members who finish their undergrad, postgrad, and doctoral degrees, and jump into the teaching fray. I don’t think that works for business education. But these are increasingly coming to light in various universities. University-corporate engagement is growing, whether it’s at ULAB or North South, and these are all highly positive signs. 

"Our private sector is simply not growing at the rate at which it needs to, to absorb the hundreds of thousands of university graduates churned out everywhere."

There is high demand for BBA and MBA degrees. Are there enough jobs in the market for these graduates?

The short answer is ‘no.’ Our private sector is simply not growing at the rate at which it needs to, to absorb the hundreds of thousands of university graduates churned out everywhere. 

Our demographic realities are what they are. We didn’t become a country of 160 million by being practical, but anytime is a good time to start. First and foremost, I think we will see and as stakeholders need to also encourage, participation in the gig economy more and more by youth. 

This means we will see more young people freelancing, setting up startups, joining established ones, that provide a whole host of services, whether it’s ridesharing or fintech power houses, or much smaller ones that provide tech or digital marketing services, and lastly, doing gigs like creating online content, providing design support, or managing Facebook business pages. 

Are universities making graduates job-ready? We hear that there is a disconnect between what is taught in the classroom and real world skills required in the workplace? How can employers and universities collaborate to close this skill gap?

If I speak on behalf of a system, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ However, certain universities, certain departments, and certain faculty members are certainly contributing to the skilling of graduates appropriately. For instance, at ULAB, we have a senior teacher in business communication who is so passionate about his teaching, that you will see most of his students finish his class with superior communication skills. I have seen this first hand. 

I like to think most of my students will leave with a clearer and more confident sense of the financial ecosystem in Bangladesh. However, most teachers in most universities are relying on North American textbooks to teach finance, marketing, and HR, in the North American context. Business is nothing if it’s not personal or relationship-based, and that’s where cultural contextualization is paramount. I was once asked, while teaching at a different university to not use so many Bangladeshi case studies! The topic was the role of the central bank! I had reasoned that the US Central Bank, known as the Federal Reserve, approaches monetary and fiscal policy with an entirely different set of tools than the Bangladesh Bank. But of course, commonsense did not prevail.

Thankfully, we don’t have this at ULAB, and I make sure every lecture I take is rooted in the realities of the Bangladeshi experience. But to your larger question, closing the skill gap isn’t a perfect process. And I don’t think you will. I have a skill gap, and I am continuously learning. Education isn’t something you can finish. But yes, corporates and universities need to work very closely to refine, create, and disseminate curriculum. It would be interesting to have corporate leaders having a say in university curriculum development, I daresay!

What are your thoughts on e-learning/digital learning in the context of university education in Bangladesh? Could mobile-based e-learning be used to reach those outside the purview of formal university system?

I think it is already happening through faculty members using YouTube to show videos that can simplify a finance concept, or Facebook groups to encourage discussion on a topic, share audio visual content, or even class notes. I have found students are likelier to download visual content and be familiar with it, than say, a word file emailed to them. 

In terms of formal e-learning, you have several startups that are trying to create the Khan Academy of Bangladesh, from the 10-Minute School to Repto to Bohu Brihi and another exciting startup called Esho Shikhi. There is also UpSkill working in the skilling market. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, but truth be told, no one has cracked the right business model. 

I think that if any of these startups could on-board one or two universities at the leadership level, and then incentivize faculty members to create digital content to complement their lectures, and make the digital content widely available to students, gradually, you will find some behavioral change. 

Some organizations invest heavily in training their employees usually via independent overseas or local training organizations and trainers. Could universities play a role here?

Yes, most certainly. Our EMBA Program for instance has launched a series of high-profile masterclasses to do just this - training mid to C-level corporate executives. We are receiving great feedback. 

It makes sense because universities have the resources and credibility to offer the sort of training experience that is more difficult to replicate for individual trainers or even training organizations.

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