A common citizen is ambivalent whether business schools are bane or boon

Oct 24 - 30, 2005

Sending kids preferably to medical or engineering colleges and universities is no more an obsession. 'My son/daughter is a doctor/engineer' is also no more a statement given by a very proud parent in our society. Business schools have grown and are growing at full throttle. There were times when public universities and medical colleges were considered the places of quality education. There is, no doubt, they are quality education providers even today. Perceptions change over time so I think the perception has changed. Now parents think of sending their kids to business schools rather than to any public university or at times even to medical colleges.

Until late 80s, there were hardly any private business schools in Pakistan. In Karachi, IBA and a couple of other business schools dominated the realm. Getting MBA degree from IBA was a far-fetched dream to many. Those who could not make it to IBA resorted to those couple of business schools, which are now in Category D of the HEC Rating of the Private Universities.

Till late 80s, most of the students craved to join medical colleges, engineering universities and other public universities. Those who succeeded in getting admission enjoyed the status and respect in the society and the leftover either quit education out of sheer dejection or appeared as private candidates to obtain a degree from public universities. On the one hand it was the victory of the talent and on the other hand it was injustice to those who wanted to pursue their dream of higher education.

Then came 90s which witnessed a massive and sudden influx of business schools across Pakistan. It was undoubtedly a good move by the government to ameliorate the abject condition of professional education in our country. Private business schools with the approval and at times without approval of the government mushroomed and continued their business unabated. People from all walks of life, desperate to get a business degree for a promising future, flocked to these schools. Parents encouraged their kids to join the so-called business schools operating in bungalows. Of course the early birds with the degrees from these business schools were able to get good jobs in multinational companies which bolstered the confidence of the others to pursue the same. Scores of other disciplines were left unheeded in the wake of getting only a business degree for better prospects. Business schools charged colossal amount of fees from the students and surprisingly the parents did not mind paying such amount in the hope of employment and career prospects. The result of all this at this juncture is that only in Karachi there are more than 20 business schools operating in full swing and one can see loads of advertisements of the business schools in almost every newspaper.

Prospect candidates are fascinated through various alluring sales gimmicks: i-morning, afternoon, evening & weekend programs ii- easy monthly installments iii-technology enriched curriculum iv-highly experienced PhD faculty v-gymnasium, squash court & play ground vi-Karachi's leading business school vii-close links with leading business organisations and banks viii-centrally air-conditioned purpose-built campus ix-financial assistance provided to students on need-cum-merit basis x-subsidized transport for students xi-learn with PhDs xii-fee concessions for the offspring of armed forces & government employees xiii- "A" category institute xiv-attractive names of the degrees offered i.e. general management, marketing, finance, banking, human resource management, management information system, accountancy, industrial management, media management, health and hospital management, pharmaceutical administration xv-easy accessible location xvi-open on Sundays & holidays.

The grassroots are being fleeced with impunity. With a few exceptions, most of the business schools don't have purpose-built campuses and are operating in bungalows and are claiming to be the custodians of quality education. The business schools in Karachi are charging from 500 to 1500 rupees for admission kit/prospectus whereas the public universities charge not more than 400 rupees. A student can obtain an honours degree from a public university in four years by paying not more than 40,000(forty thousand) rupees whereas the private business schools charge about 400,000 (four hundred thousand) rupees. Public universities announce admissions once a year whereas the private business schools do the same at least twice a year; perhaps a service to the nation.

Higher Education Commission woke up from its sound slumber on November 13, 2004 with an advertisement on rating the private universities. "Public alert on substandard private universities". Private Universities were allocated A,B,C and D categories based on their performance. Well, it was a good move for a few days only. In Sindh, only 03 private universities namely Institute of Business Management, Hamdard University and Agha Khan University were awarded "A" categories but later HEC incorporated one more name (previously B Category) for unknown reasons. In my opinion, such a decision by HEC diluted the significance of the top category. Even HEC itself does not know what quality education is all about.

Surely, the quality of education has diluted. A business graduate does not mean a quality employee and this is because some business schools are open to all and sundry. At the same time there are a few which are themselves names of quality education and the graduates of such schools are serving the nation with their skills learnt in their respective schools.

Education has become a precious commodity. A UNESCO report reveals, in 1951, illiterate population was about 22 million in Pakistan whereas according to the 1998 census results it has risen to 48 million. Pakistan intends to achieve target of 86 percent adult literacy by 2015. The initiatives of the government for the provision of free textbooks and the abolition of school fees up to the 10th grade are commendable but at the same time the government should be criticized for doing nothing to bring down the higher fees being charged from the lower middle class in the country's flourishing business school industry.

A common citizen is ambivalent whether business schools are bane or boon. They will prove a boon to society in case they aim to serve not to earn.