By Hafsa Ahsan
Asma was a bright, ambitious engineering student. She entered one of the most prestigious institutes of engineering and four years later graduated with laurels. However, immediately after her graduation, her parents fixed her marriage into a family, which wasn’t so keen on her utilizing her engineering degree in any way.
Her mother wasn’t too bothered. When certain concerned friends inquired quite incredulously, as to why she let her daughter take admission in a professional university, if she had no intentions of pursuing her career, she remarked casually: “Well, she had a passion, so we let her pursue it. Of course, we had told her quite strictly that she will not be allowed to work or pursue a career in it. And now her in-laws don’t like it as well.”
As sad as the above account may sound, the fact of the matter is that even though an increasing number of female students is taking the initiative and acquiring most of the limited number of seats in professional colleges, a high percentage either drops out before completing the four-year education, or chooses not to utilize the degree in any way after graduation.
Of course, one cannot deny that many female students are ambitious. They want to study and carve a niche for themselves in their lives. And the elimination of the quota system in professional colleges means that every year a greater number of female students gets admission in these colleges, as compared to the number of male students. They put in their time, energy and effort (not to mention their parents’ hard-earned money) to get through their academic years.
But the end result is back to square one. All the money and all the efforts go down the drain, when the parents either arrange the marriage of their acquiescent daughter while she is studying, or when she is done studying. And there goes another professional seat down the drain.
So, what is wrong with this phenomenon? The very basic wrong thing is that these girls, who take admission in professional colleges, which are already scarce in this country given the number of students aspiring to take admission, occupy a valuable seat. The same seat could have gone either to a girl, who was more inclined towards pursuing a career even after marriage, or a male student, who would have to earn his livelihood through the concerned profession no matter what.
When female students occupy most of these valuable seats with no intention of pursuing a professional career after graduation, male students lose out and are either forced to take admission elsewhere or completely change their field of interest. Many of them end up studying in a private professional institute, whose degree is not recognized in the job market, or acquiring non-professional degrees, which later prove detrimental when searching for a job. All this ultimately adds to the growing rate of unemployment in this country and increases the social problems that stem from it.
Unfortunately, all this goes unnoticed by these female students and their relatives. Parents either push their unwilling daughters into professional education for the sake of prestige, or female students themselves take admission, quite willing to drop out when their marriage date is fixed, oblivious to what a grave injustice they do to their country, which is already suffering from a shortage of professionals.
So, what is the solution? Of course, changing anyone’s mindset is quite a Herculean task, and chances are that even if you do talk to anyone about this, they will label you as a Western feminist, who thinks that marriage isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. You can try to tell someone that utilizing a degree doesn’t mean working from nine to five and neglecting one’s responsibilities at home. But another sad fact about the people of this country is that they see a trade-off between marriage and career.
However, parents can be approached and made aware of the lack of professionals in this country. They can be told that it is unjust on their part to push their unwilling daughters towards professional colleges or not allow them to utilize their degrees in any way. They could also be made aware of the fact that there are different ways of utilizing the degree.
Serious intervention is needed on the part of both the policy makers and those at the helm of affairs in the professional educational institutes. Policy makers can re-introduce the quota system to give an edge to the male students, who ultimately do have to make use of the degrees they are pursuing. Many would argue that this is unjust, but what parents and prospective in-laws are doing is even more unjust at the end of the day.
Where the institutes themselves are concerned, the authorities of the selection committees conduct extensive interviews during the admission process with all the candidates aspiring to take admission. Female students should especially be grilled about the reasons why they want to pursue this particular degree, and what they intend to do with it. In this way, any female applicant, who is applying because of pressure from her parents, or has no interest in the field, can be screened out at the time of admission.
Of course, no one is saying here that the girls, who have no interest in acquiring professional education, are inferior in any way. Although all of us have our own priorities, our actions should nevertheless not adversely affect anyone else, least of all the country that we live in. If girls aren’t interested in professional degrees, there are loads of non-professional degrees, which can be pursued for the purpose of acquiring higher education. These degrees aren’t inferior and shouldn’t be considered as such.
Thus, a change in the mindset and in policies is acutely required, if the wastage phenomenon of the seats is to ooze away smoothly.