Students and their parents must make informed choices while deciding about undergraduate programmes
In a tragic episode on January 21, 2019, Atif Arain, a young student of medicine in a well-known public university in Jamshoro, allegedly committed suicide. Initial probe revealed that the boy was not interested in the subject. He wished to be a cricketer or chartered accountant.
This is not a one-off incident. One comes across many unhappy faces in universities who pursue disciplines chosen by their parents. If born in a family of medical doctors, children are often forced to study medicine either due to possible peer support they would receive or extending help in running a family hospital. The same also applies to kids in families of chartered accountants or engineers. This is an inappropriate approach.
Gone are the days when medicine or engineering used to be the only prized disciplines. After completing higher secondary school, aspirants have a broad range to choose from. It will be useful for parents and their progeny to be aware of these possibilities.
Based on the subject combinations, students can be categorised into five groups. Young folks with science pre-medical qualifications mostly desire to join the degree programmes in medicine or dentistry. Other tracks include professional degrees in pharmacy, bio and medical engineering. A lesser merit block comprises general degree programmes in micro biology, bio-chemistry, botany and related disciplines.
Second group includes science pre-engineering candidates. They have a broad range of engineering disciplines, architecture and computer science available for consideration. Civil, mechanical, electrical, electronics, computer systems, telecommunications, urban, bio, medical, textile, chemical, metallurgical, materials, petroleum, petro-chemicals, polymer and mining engineering are some of the common programmes. Those who do not make it into professional degrees normally opt for programmes in physics, chemistry, mathematics and statistics.
The third group encompasses students who have studied commerce at the intermediate level. They apply for business administration and commerce degrees or paths leading to accountancy education / training. They also delve into economics or finance.
The fourth group comprises those with arts qualifications. They have a wide array from social science disciplines. English, Urdu, economics, sociology, mass communications, international relations, political science and scores of very interesting options wait for them.
And the fifth category encompasses those who yearn for special fields in fine arts, crafts, fashion design, advertising and media studies. Intake conditions are kept flexible in order to attract promising lads and lasses with bountiful flair of skills and creativity. A hoard of myths surrounds the process of making informed choices at the undergraduate level.
It is believed that the programmes that attract the highest merit at a certain point are ‘the best’ at least in comparative terms. The term ‘best’ often implies disciplines with the most lucrative job prospects for its graduates. This is valid only to a partial extent. Employment opportunities depend upon performance of different sectors, progress, growth as well as supply and demand equation at a given point in time. Quality of education also generates an extraordinary impact.
For instance, degrees in business administration were probably one of the most sought after option before the mushrooming growth of private universities and degree awarding institutions. Whereas the common demand of such graduates has declined, the alumni from premier institutions easily make their way into the job market.
Similarly graduates in basic engineering such as mechanical or metallurgical fields find appropriate jobs as they are only produced by public sector universities. No ordinary private university finds it feasible to venture into disciplines which require most expensive hardware and resources. Besides, the employability conditions change with the time. For instance, petroleum and telecom engineers were in high demand about five years ago. Due to a dwindling effect in the enterprises that employed them, the demand has been negatively affected.
The possibility of changing the career after the first degree remains wide open. Undergraduate qualifications are only the fundamental basis of any branch of learning and application. Higher qualifications, training and on-job experience develop the human resource towards gainful specialisations. In many cases, young professionals adopt a hybrid approach. An engineer or medical doctor may choose to follow a career in civil services, banking, marketing or enterprise management. It becomes viable on account of aptitude, inclination, opportunities or simply lucks of the concerned.
A second degree and modules in training help in building up the requisite competence. There are countless examples of luminaries who possessed degrees that had very little to do with their chosen field of work. Eminent artist and sculptor Guljee was a well qualified engineer. Famous writer Qudratullah Shahab earned his living through his equally distinguished career in civil service. Humorist Shafiq-ur-Rehman was a senior military officer. Men of letters such as Jamiluddin Aali and Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi were bankers. Many medicine and engineering graduates became famous pop singers.
In contemporary scenario, the opportunities to change the career path to a new direction are fairly abundant. Thus general degree holders often seek a degree in law or business administration after completing few pre-requisites. Similarly an accountant may become a copy writer or media anchor by virtue of talent. Additional qualification helps in refining the various labyrinths of talent.
However, attainment in certain aspects of professional conduct and performance are universal. Pupils in all branches of learning must be encouraged to build up their capabilities in those domains. An objective learning attitude, capability to raise questions, communication and inter-personal skills as well as self discipline are few attributes that transform every soul into a sought after individual for important assignments. Whereas finesse comes with age and experience, foundation is laid at the undergraduate level.
Students and their parents must make informed choices while deciding about undergraduate programmes. Adequate preparation for entrance examinations -- where ever applicable -- must be done to optimise the choices. During the course of this process, students must continue to learn about the scope of their desired field and its applications. Parents will do well to let the young people make their own choices, avoiding what happened to Atif Arain!