Business studies a new favourite discipline for Pakistani students

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on May 18, 2014.

Islamabad – For decades, engineering and medicine have been Pakistan’s favourite professions.

The patriarchal Pakistani society approves of female doctors, alongside women teachers perhaps, and the country’s men have often been pushed, sometimes against their will, to be solution-seekers.

But the old order might be gradually crumbling, with a wave of enterprising young people who are inspired by global consumerism-driven innovation and frustrated by unemployment. Pakistani college students, driven by a desire to achieve business acumen, self-employment and financial success, appear to be exploring new education avenues.

A majority of the undergraduate students who attended the Express Education and Career Expo said they perceived business, marketing and management studies to be the “in” academic disciplines in Pakistan at the moment.

“There are simply more jobs in marketing,” said Nabeel Fakhar, a final-year engineering student at the Sihala Campus of the University of Lahore. “Engineering comes with a more grueling job search, I think.”

The degree programmes Fakhar and his friends identified as popular among the student body included Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration.

Ghazala Akhtar, a student at the Federal Urdu University in Islamabad, said she was pursuing a master’s in Business Administration. Akhtar, who had studied commerce in college, agreed with the employability perception of a business degree.

“I’ve seen people struggle less to find a job with a BBA or MBA,” she said. Fakhar said there are jobs in the banking sector and multinational firms for business grads.

Malik Muhammad Nouman, an engineering undergraduate at the International Islamic University Islamabad, said he had also noticed an overall trend towards management subjects.

It is not something he said he wanted to pursue but he agreed there is a certain allure in learning business skills for people just about to step into the adult world.

But like Akhtar and Nouman, the students at the expo were mostly formally seeking degrees at educational institutions. They had not ventured into entrepreneurship and did not seem interested in anything other than a 9-to-5 job.

Their attitude towards employment did not, however, reflect accurately a growing technology-oriented entrepreneurial bent among fresh graduates.

Software engineering is a discipline that promotes enterprise, said Adeel Zia, an oil-and-gas professional visiting the expo.

“With a software degree, you can work from home or even better, work for yourself,” Zia said.

But the decline in popularity of engineering and medicine is not rapid and definitely cannot be considered generalised. Zia prudently mentioned that civil and mechanical engineering disciplines still provide top employment prospects in the country.

Social sciences also failed to figure in the conversations with students at the expo. Akhtar said it depends on a person’s interests. But she also indicated that she did not have any people in her circle of friends who had opted for a social sciences career.

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