DHAKA, Bangladesh

The shrinking job opportunities due to a widening mismatch between market demand and academic skills in Bangladesh is driving university students to suicide.

Shovon (not his real name), who recently graduated from the Department of Philosophy, University of Dhaka, shared his story of depression with Anadolu Agency that provoked him to attempt suicide.

“My age for government jobs (30 years) was over at the time of the pandemic in 2020. I lost my part-time job and tuition. I had to get back to the village as I did not have the financial ability to survive amid the lockdown in Dhaka.

“However, some of my friends already secured government jobs which prompted my parents and relatives to express their frustration on me,” he narrated.

“I lost my friends’ circle and became isolated. I felt empty deep inside, depressed and frustrated. Finally, I decided to commit suicide.

“However, I survived and got normal with the support of some friends,” he added.

At least 101 university students committed suicide in 2021 and 64.36% of them were male students, according to a study by Aachol Foundation that works for the prevention of suicides among students.

“Inability of students to adapt to an uncertain future and lack of accessibility to adequate educational opportunities may be classified as the primary catalyst of suicide cases,” Tansen Rose, the founding president of the foundation, told Anadolu Agency.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Kamal Uddin Ahmed Chowdhury, a professor at the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka, observed that the young generation’s mental strength had deteriorated, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial insecurity and depression during the pandemic remain major causes, he added, saying that social hype for government jobs, high expectations, and lack of mental stability among fresh graduates led to this fragile state.

“Lack of participation in sports, social and cultural activities impedes mental growth, making the youth to become isolated. And once their expectations are not met, they become depressed and finally take the path of suicide,” the clinical psychologist explained.

He called for mental health specialists at the national level to support these young people as mental healthcare remains overlooked in Bangladesh.

Mismatch between market demand, skills

A World Bank report said only 19% of college graduates are found to be employed full-time or part-time, while nearly half are unemployed, saying policymakers should focus on enhancing the quality and relevance of education by modernizing curriculum and facilities.

The Global Knowledge Index said one in three graduates remain unemployed in Bangladesh due to the poor education system while it ranked 112th out of 138 countries.

Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office, told Anadolu Agency that unemployment among the higher degree holders is very high in Bangladesh compared to other countries.

“Despite the growing demand for skilled manpower in the market, a large number of graduates remained unemployed in Bangladesh as the existing education curriculum failed to produce the required manpower.

“We have to hire a huge number of foreigners in sectors like readymade garments, pharmaceuticals, hospitality management in luxurious hotels, tertiary hospitals, technical workers, and so on,” he added.

“If the private sector wants to recruit local graduates, they have to invest more in skill up-gradation. There is a mismatch between the market demand and academic curricula,” the economist pointed out.

The education quality and its relevance remain a critical concern in Bangladesh.

“The competition and exam-based flawed education system having so many mediums of education is a major cause behind the prevailing frustration among students in Bangladesh,” Chowdhury said.

Hussain suggested a need-based quality education meeting the demands of industry, saying just a good academic result could not ensure a good private job.

Bangladesh, however, unveiled a revised and competency-based National Curriculum Framework in schools to be enacted in 2025, as the existing education system mostly fails to assess the skills and efficiency of students.

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