Studying Economics: Then and Now | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 08, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Studying Economics: Then and Now

Studying Economics: Then and Now

Photo: Sahil Khan, School Of Business, Nsu.
Photo: Sahil Khan, School Of Business, Nsu.

The Classical Period: In 1958, my Father, Amirul Islam Chowdhury, enrolled as a student of economics at the University of Dhaka. That year, Dhaka and Rajshahi were the only two universities with an honours programme in economics. My Father's class size was 32. Rajshahi had a similar class size. The national supply of economics graduates from the 1958-1962 Batch in East Pakistan was 65 at best.
Economics graduates had limited career options. Only the very best were absorbed by universities since there were only two general universities. Government jobs, university colleges, banks, and government sponsored research organisations were the main employment sources. NGOs didn't exist in pre-Bangladesh period. Development and research organisations and the private sector weren't popular sources of employment for university graduates in the 1960s.  
Competition and job placement were predictable. Students knew half of the country's job applicants (their own university). They knew some of the remaining half through common contacts. Employers could also identify the quality of applicants with reliable accuracy. My Father's friends and batch mates ruled the country in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Neoclassical Period: I started my journey as a student of economics at Jahangirnagar University in 1988. Only four more general universities with economics honours programmes were added: Chittagong (1966); Jahangirnagar (1970); Islamic University, Kushtia (1986) and Shahjalal, Sylhet (1987). By 1988 Economics had become mathematical. Knowledge of SPSS and programme writing were at the frontier of technical expertise. Econometrics determined if you were a whiz kid or not. NGOs, development and research organisations were emerging as employers for graduates of economics and the social sciences. Higher studies abroad increased. Students started trying their luck outside UK and North America.  Two important phenomena happened in 1992/93: the emergence of the BBA programme and private universities.
 1992/93 is a watershed in higher education in Bangladesh. The first BBA programme started at Jahangirnagar University in 1992. IBA of University of Dhaka started their BBA programme in 1993. That same year North South University formally started as the first private university in Bangladesh. To meet the demand for university education, private universities have been expanding since the 1990s and public universities since the 2000s. Thanks to our ever growing economy, the corporate sector has emerged as a potential employer. This sector has made business and engineering faculties the most popular in all universities of Bangladesh. Life since 1992/93 would never be the same for economics graduates. They were now exposed to competition my father's generation could not imagine and what my generation narrowly escaped.
The 21st Century: Today there are more than 100 universities in Bangladesh. This is excluding the National University. Not all of these universities have an economics department, but they all have a business faculty. Economics graduates are competing for jobs with graduates from diverse backgrounds through MBA programmes and in NGOs and development and research organisations. If SPSS was enough for us, today you have EViews, Minitab and Stata. With global recession, scholarships and grants for studies abroad is now more competitive. Have you lost hope for the 'scope of an economist' in the 21st Century? There's always a ray of light shining from somewhere.  
Economics as a discipline formally started in 1776 with Adam Smith's “Wealth of Nations”. Since then, economics has developed techniques and philosophical insights that have made it one of the broadest inter-disciplinary subjects. With calculus, probability, econometrics, and game theory, economics has penetrated psychological decision making and neurosciences; health; education; sports; environment; politics; even feminism. Economics is not a 'dismal science' as Thomas Carlyle once said.
If you want to follow the average, you now know the challenges of preparing yourself in today's competitive national and global markets. If you like adventure and want to stand out from the average, the 'scope of economics' has wide opportunities in Bangladesh with new and exciting emerging fields. Economics has always been the science of how bodies (individuals; groups; organisations; nations) interact. Because of this simple foundation, economics will remain the 'Queen of the social sciences' in the foreseeable future as Paul Samuelson coined.
Source: My talk in the final session of the 2014 programme of YEF, NSU. The title was 'The scope of an economist'.

Asrar Chowdhury teaches economic theory and game theory in the classroom. Outside he listens to music and BBC Radio; follows Test Cricket; and plays the flute. He can be reached at:

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