Having worked in the academia, I’m approached by students every year for graduate school counselling. And every year I find the exact same issues with students applying for graduate schools — they don’t know why they want to pursue a Master’s degree. Scratch a little under the surface, and one is exposed to the shocking reasons why Pakistani students are spending enormous amounts of money and a year or two of their lives in pursuing a Master’s degree.
Apart from the very few that have a strong passion and a clear goal in mind about what they want to achieve with the Master’s degree, almost 98 per cent of the graduating Pakistani students pursue this degree for all the wrongs reasons or worse, for no reasons at all.
Unfortunately, the lack of counselling at the high school, college and university levels results in the curse of path dependency in our society, shrinking any hope for introspection by individual students to follow their passions or dreams. Instead, students ride the tide — be it becoming a doctor/engineer or pursuing an ACCA or getting an MBA. The current tide is pursuing a Master’s degree from ‘abroad’, be it from any university and in any subject — but from ‘abroad’.
There are couple of reasons for this. One, I have had scores of female students being blunt about the fact that a good Master’s degree puts them in spot for a good marriage proposal. As absurd as it sounds, one wonders if this is a positive sign — given that in our society females have always been judged based on the fairness of their skin. In that sense, perhaps our society has come a long way into demanding well educated women for the purpose of marriage. On the other hand, realising that a ‘good marriage proposal’ is the motivation for attending graduate school doesn’t offer much to celebrate.
Similar is the case with several male students who understand that pursuing an MBA or any other Master’s is as much about getting an entry-level job in a bank as it is about passing the criteria for marriage set by the girl’s parents.
Then there are those students who want to pursue a Master’s degree from abroad — any Master’s degree from abroad that can serve both purposes — the ability to wear the badge of ‘foreign educated’ and also get a slight advantage in the job market back home in Pakistan. Within this lot are also many students who wish to undertake a Master’s degree as the legal and most reliable way for settling abroad. This reason is perhaps more understandable, and worthy for the amount of money and time spent on the degree. Yet, with the strictness in visa policies in the US, Canada, the UK and other parts of the world, students with such plans are left at a serious disadvantage. Having been engaged in recruitment for the government, I have come across numerous such students who were unable to live and work abroad and ended up in Pakistan, depressed and frustrated.
While the above-stated reasons still make some sense, there are other more absurd reasons why people pursue a Master’s degree.
One of these is the ‘I don’t know what else to do’ reason. It would be surprising, if the numbers were to be revealed of the kids enrolled in a Master’s programme in Pakistan, who are just there because they didn’t know what else to do.
The worst reason to pursue a Master’s degree, however, is to avoid marriage or to have a few more years of ‘independence’. While such decisions are totally personal, as a counsellor, I often advise these students to instead travel the world, or pick up any volunteer or community-level work to achieve those goals — no need to pursue a Master’s degree.
The purpose of this article isn’t to patronise or mock students but to explain how important it is to have good and practical reasons to pursue a Master’s degree. There is a desperate need in Pakistan to establish counselling at high school, college and university levels that not only provides guidance to young students on the possibilities that this world and future trends have to offer, but to disrupt the mentality of path dependency. At the same time, a lot of introspection is needed at the individual level by students to develop a passion for something and pursue their dreams. Till then, we can expect to mass-produce students with Master’s degrees but with no real education or motivation.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2016.