Bangladesh currently has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Our gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to surpass the $500 billion mark by 2025. In such a burgeoning economy, one would expect to see a thriving culture of entrepreneurship.
But unfortunately, at least among graduates from public universities, very few actually show an interest in starting their own businesses. Such astonishingly low numbers are not only created by personal preferences but also caused by social, economic and cultural obstacles.
According to the annual report of the University Grants Commission (UGC), there are almost 2.7 million students in public universities and almost 6,00,000 graduate from private universities every year. One-sixth of these students are business graduates.
But only 3.5% of these business students want to become an entrepreneur. By contrast, 37.65% want to hold a job in the banking sector, 23.8% want to join various multinational companies and 11.3% want to become government employees.
Such low numbers are concerning but understandable. Bangladesh stands at the 84th position in the Entrepreneurship Index 2021. Countries are ranked based on innovation, competitiveness, labour skills, infrastructure, access to capital and openness for business. Bangladesh scored only 12.99 out of 100 in the index. It illustrates the main reasons behind students' reluctance to start their own businesses.
Lack of access to large amounts of capital still remains the primary problem for many entrepreneurs. Start-ups, by nature, are somewhat shaky when they first begin their operations. They have to be prepared to incur some losses or to make shifts in their business models. As a result, it is imperative to secure decent investments to ensure the start-ups stay afloat during those tumultuous days.
But that simply is not possible for many fresh graduates. They do not have assets they can use as collateral to get bank loans. Furthermore, domestic and foreign investors tend to prefer already established sectors that are almost guaranteed to make a profit. As a result, many are forced to kill their dream ideas in their cribs and forced to take a 9-5 job.
While some opportunities for fundraising have risen in the last few years, they are still not nearly enough to accommodate the innovative ideas of such a large number of students.
As public universities provide higher education at a heavily subsidised rate, many students from low-income households can get admitted. Some may even have a chip on their shoulders to secure a stable source of income as soon as they can after graduation. Our nation is also culturally biased towards these kinds of jobs. Consequently, these students prefer to take government or corporate jobs that pay well.
Female students in our country have to face an additional set of challenges when they try to embark on the journey through a less travelled path like entrepreneurship. Due to rampant cases of violence against women, they tend to feel insecure in pursuing a career that will involve working unusually late hours or working in difficult and often adversarial environments. Some are pressured to marry as soon as they can due to the deep-rooted misogyny in our society.
Our existing business studies curriculum focuses mainly on theoretical knowledge. It does not provide enough opportunities for the students to actually apply what they have learned before graduation. As a result, many do not feel prepared to run a business right out of the gate and prefer to gain some experience working for already established companies.
Only 3.5% of business students want to become an entrepreneur. By contrast, 37.65% want to hold a job in the banking sector, 23.8% want to join various multinational companies and 11.3% want to become government employees.
Entrepreneurship can be a very rewarding career path. It can offer better pay, work hours and environment for students. But it is shrouded in a mist of uncertainty. Indeed, in the beginning, no entrepreneur can actually predict how successful they will eventually become.
As if this unpredictability was not discouraging enough, the aforementioned problems can make entrepreneurship even more undesirable for the youth.
But it is important for the country to foster a better environment for our future entrepreneurs. Our biggest resource is our enormous manpower. We have to harness their passion and enthusiasm for business, growth and innovation in order to continue our triumphant march towards becoming a developed country by 2041.
We have to change, not only our financial policies but also our social conditioning and how we look at careers or success as a nation to provide an environment that will make our children want to pursue their dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and leave their mark on our nation.
Nushakha Israt is a marketing student at Jahangirnagar University. She can be reached at [email protected].