I was on the Board of seventeen universities and educational institutes in my capacity as President of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2006-2007. During my tenure, I ensured my presence at Board meetings and Annual Convocations. I was also Member of Karachi University Academic Council as nominee of two erstwhile Sindh Governors. I was also the Corporate Representative nominated by Higher Education Commission on the National Business Education Accreditation Council. I am still on the Board of a prestigious University since 2005. I am pleased that Pakistan’s universities are striving to turn out graduates in many relevant fields including business related. Institutes, such as LUMS in Lahore and IBA in Karachi, provide quality education at par with the international standards and prepare MBAs who are industry-ready and the most sought after business graduates.
Universities all over Pakistan offer business degrees and claim that they have top-notch faculty. Some of these institutes have a hefty fees package but then also offer substantial scholarships or fee subsidies. Before start of a new session, these institutes fill up newspapers with advertisements to attract candidates for admission into various disciplines. Their advertisements and their orientation sessions guarantee prospective students of a life that promises a good job along with a security for their future. The top rated institutes go for high scholastic achievers whereas those institutes who are lower in ratings or prestige provide an enabling environment for students with lesser grades. All in all, inspite of the competition and inspite of logistical approachability or output worth, students do manage to get into some institute to pursue their desired degree.
The question that arises is the value of the BBA or MBA degree. Notwithstanding the significance that a degree from a the highly rated institutes commands, the essential premise is whether these institutes are churning out skilled and competent business graduates or are the degrees mere degrees and not of any worthwhile consequence? Are the graduates armed with practical skills and aware of ground realities in the corporate world or are they full of theory and idealism? Are the universities more concerned with the number of graduates emerging out of their portals or are their graduates ready to conquer the corporate domain?
There are diverse views and opinions among industrialists as well as businessmen. Although transnational corporations and financial institutions have a different outlook regarding the hiring as well as the future employability of the fresh graduates, there is a another side to the story when it comes to the thinking process of local businessmen and industrialists. In the modern corporate world, emphasis is also placed on employee training, either on-job or opportunities to attend seminars, conferences, and external networking. Conversely, many graduates, especially those unable to attract the eye of the talent scout or the head hunter, resign themselves to acceptance of a position in organizations that are controlled by families or that still follow the old but established mode of doing business. This then is the dilemma faced by fresh university leavers.
What is fundamentally missing is the non recognition by policymakers and planners of a conceptual guideline in developing future managers or entrepreneurs among the graduating group. The ever-increasing number of business graduates has placed the youth into a delicate but disadvantageous situation in seeking career-oriented positions. A degree enables entry into the business world but the value of the degree is directly linked to the performance as well as the capability and acumen of the holder of that degree. This, then, is the paradox that needs to be addressed by the institutes as well as the Higher Education Commission. Graduates are supposed to be well-endowed with theory, with skills, and with motivation, not only to work in the domestic environment but also to become an attractive source for employers based in other countries. This acceptability is the crucial litmus test that is paramount and reflects the worthiness of the institute and the graduate.
In conversations with members of the corporate world as well as academia, there are some common or agreeable factors regarding the business universities and the graduates. One disturbing element is that the HEC ranking of institutes should not be totally relied as the criteria as there are many subtle points that preclude any such reliance. These rankings are at times arbitrary, and for some institutes who consider themselves having a superior faculty, coaching model, better in-house facilities and scholastic environment, these rankings are discriminatory. Whatever is the truth, the fact is that Pakistan needs proficient managers and not hopeless drones with a degree.
A well known academic heavyweight lamented the proliferation of so many universities, especially in urban areas, and advocated discouraging the setting up of more business schools and instead diverting energies and resources towards establishing technologically-focused universities that have disciplines such as coal technology, mining, oil and gas exploration, climate control, alternate sources of power, agriculture, nuclear, etc. There is also the imperative need to inculcate technical knowhow right from secondary schools rather than wait for someone to graduate from school and then deciding on a future scholastic direction.
It is also essential that an academia-corporate nexus be formalized so that the practical skills of the student are honed in the proper and need-based manner. There is no prescribed system of mentoring except perhaps the ritual internship that is propped up as gaining first-hand experience in trade and industry. A short stint may expose the student to real business life but it does not enable the student to imbibe the true essence of the complexities and the multifaceted contours of the business world. A case in point is the much-touted Prime Minister’s Youth Business Loan Scheme. While appreciating the motive and urgency behind this populist measure, the fact is that many of the potential entrepreneurs may fall short of their objectives because of lack of a mentoring mechanism. Their exuberance and their idealism can only make the venture profitable if there is a strong foundation and there is a strict monitoring system in place. The theoretical knowledge gained in classes is vital but it may not be the only recipe of success.
Pakistan’s business graduates should be much sought after by multinationals here as well as abroad if they can substantiate their grasp of the subjects and can effectively demonstrate managerial abilities. The curriculum should be industry oriented after a serious need assessment by established managers and enlightened employers. This would place Pakistani MBA graduates into an enviable position by being readily accepted not only by local business entities but also by companies across the globe. Pakistan’s corporate regime is in dire need of a modernistic paradigm shift in developing its human capital. The odds are more favorable if the business and industrial community comes forward to provide the navigation that the youth require to steer the boat in the uncharted waters. High standards in business schools, dedicated mentoring by trade and industry, and determination by the youth combine to provide Pakistan with world class managers, as well as entrepreneurs. In the words of the American business tycoon John D. Rockefeller, “If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.”